Forty-one passengers of AirAsia Fight QZ8501, which crashed on Sunday with 162 people on board, were reportedly members of a single church in Indonesia, reports have said. The search for the bodies of the victims in the Java Sea meanwhile continues around much grief and tragedy.
The Straits Times reported on Thursday that the 41 Christians were members of the Mawar Sharon Church of Surabaya, part of one of the largest megachurches in the region, with 30,000 members.
A pastor at the church, Philip Mantofa, said that he was shocked to learn of the big loss to his parish. He urged relatives of the victims not to allow the tragedy to shake their faith.
"Some things do not make sense to us but God is bigger than all this," Mantofa said, according to the Daily Mail.
A number of the church members on the flight were apparently flying to Singapore for the holidays.
At least another five people on board the AirAsia flight belonged to The Bethany Church, another prominent church in Surabaya.
After two days of searching, debris from Flight QZ8501 was discovered in the Karimata Strait, southwest of Pangkalan Bun in the Borneo province of Central Kalimantan. The debris, along with several bodies, were uncovered around six miles from the flight's last point of contact.
Rescue workers have since been battling harsh conditions in a mission to recover all the bodies of the victims.
The plane had been traveling from Surabaya to Singapore. Almost all the passengers where Indonesian, though there were also citizens from South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and Britain.
A young family of Korean Christian missionaries was also on board the flight, reports added on Tuesday. The husband, Park Seong-beom, 37, his wife, Lee Kyung-hwa, and their 11-month-old daughter, Park Yuna, were reportedly traveling to Singapore to renew their visas so they can continue doing their missionary work in Indonesia.
Following news that bodies had started being recovered, Surabaya mayor Tri Rismaharini tried to comfort relatives, and told them to "be strong."
"They are not ours, they belong to God," the mayor said of the victims.
AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes said that the news of the crash is his "worst nightmare."
"I am absolutely devastated. This is a very difficult moment for all of us at AirAsia as we await further developments of the search and rescue operations, but our first priority now is the wellbeing of the family members of those on board QZ8501," Fernandes said.
He added in another statement: "My heart is filled with sadness for all the families involved in QZ8501. On behalf of AirAsia, my condolences to all. Words cannot express how sorry I am."
Christianity remains a minority religion in Indonesia, making up close to 10 percent of the population, according to the CIA World Factbook. Churches have been experiencing "phenomenal" growth, however, according to a report by Christian Broadcasting Network in 2012.