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Forty-One Passengers on Doomed AirAsia Plane Belonged to Same Church

Mawar Sharon Church lost 41 members, including children, when AirAsia Flight 8501 crashed between Surabaya, Indonesia, and Singapore on Dec. 28.

More than a quarter of the people aboard AirAsia Flight 8501 were members of a single church congregation, which is now presented with the challenge of comforting the victims' relatives who were left behind.

Mawar Sharon Church in Indonesia lost 41 members, including children, when the AirAsia plane crashed on a flight from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore on Dec. 28, presumably killing all 162 people on board.

And ten other passengers were related to members of the church, Pastor Caleb Natanielliem told NBC News.

The members weren't traveling as a group or flying to attend a conference, but "some of these families I know, they've been saving up money just to go on their family holiday to celebrate new year in Singapore,” Natanielliem said. The fact that so many congregants were on the doomed plane appeared to be by chance.

"It’s a shock," Natanielliem said.

The church has been hosting prayer services for victims' families, according to the the Mawar Sharon Facebook page, and Natanielliem said each of the 14 families who attend the church who lost a relative, or several, has been paired with a pastor.

"There will be questions of ‘what am I going to do? What is next and how can I move along and move forward?’ And we will be there every step of the way," Natanielliem said.

In addition to advising those who are grieving to read their Bibles and pray, Natanielliem said church leaders are making sure family members of victims are resting and drinking enough water. Natanielliem said he is "reminding them not to get too overwhelmed with the news because looking at the images of the debris and bodies floating up, it really breaks their heart."

After an eighth day of searching Sunday, crews have recovered 34 bodies from the Java sea. Chief Bambang Soelistyo of Indonesia's Search and Rescue agency said Sunday he hopes the plane's black boxes will be found Monday.


— Katy Tur, Lucy Pawle and Elisha Fieldstadt