Jakarta: Passengers aboard AirAsia Flight QZ8501 were in a festive mood as they boarded the aircraft in Indonesia to fly to celebrate New Year with their loved ones in Singapore.
Their highly-regarded Indonesian pilot Iriyanto, 53, used to fly military fighters before taking early retirement and joining commercial airlines.
"Our pilot was extremely experienced, 20,000 hours (of flying time), he came from the air force, he was one of their best graduates. He came from Surabaya so he knows the area very well," AirAsia chief Tony Fernandes said.
His less experienced co-pilot was Frenchman Remi Plesel, originally from the island of Martinique in the Antilles.
"Since he was very young, it was his dream to be a pilot and the dream came true. He had been in Indonesia for three years... He was a very good pilot, an excellent one," his sister Renee told French radio station RTL.
Their 155 passengers included Indonesian bank worker Ruth Natalia Puspitasari, who was flying to the Lion City for New Year with her fiance Bob Hartanto Wijaya and his parents.
Architect Wijaya had posted a picture of a Louis Vuitton wallet, a gift from Puspitasari, on his Instagram account.
"Thanks babe @ruthnatalii for the late birthday gift," he wrote.
The young couple were planning to get married next year.
"Before all bodies are found and identified, there is still a possibility of survival even if it`s only 1 percent. Miracle is real. God with you," said Lia Yang on Wijaya`s Instagram, one of many friends and relatives of the passengers and crew who have flooded social media with prayers and memories of their loved ones.Many of the mostly Indonesian passengers were travelling with their families.
Jie Charly Gunawan took his wife, their three children, his mother in law, and their future son-in-law to Singapore.
"The whole house has gone for the trip," his sister Jie Melinda, 40, told AFP.
"Now I am hoping for a miracle that they all return alive, please help us with a prayer."
Herumanto Tanus had brought his wife and two sons to spend the holiday season with daughter Ciara who was studying in Singapore.
A South Korean missionary couple were travelling with their baby, while Briton Choi Chi Man from Hull, a manager with electronic manufacturing firm Alstom Power, was with his two-year-old daughter Zoe, a Singaporean national, on their way to meet his wife in Singapore.
But the majority of the passengers were Indonesian, mostly from Surabaya and nearby small towns.
Yu Yong Ee was travelling with his wife and two children.
"I have known him since he was a young boy," said his personal driver Mat Sude, 55. "He is just extraordinary and it`s really a big loss to me."
AirAsia flight attendant Oscar Desano`s wife was expecting their first child.
He had wished her happy birthday on December 16, posting a collage of pictures of the two of them, a birthday cake and celebrating with their relatives on his Path social media account.
"Happy 25th birthday my beautiful wife. I hope you`ll be a great mother, a great example, and a great role model to our children.
"I love you so much, I adore you so much, you`re my everything, always be my wife, always be my friend, always be my biggest enemy, I love you now and then, till only death do us apart."