Dignity in tragedy: Missing AirAsia captain's family remember loving father

AirAsia pilot had 20,000 flying hours
AirAsia pilot had 20,000 flying hours

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Story highlights

  • CNN crew speaks to the family of the captain of AirAsia Flight QZ8501
  • Irianto was a highly-experienced former air force pilot
  • Pilot's wife describes him as a kind and loving man who was hard-working and dedicated
  • Daughter holds out hope that he and other passengers may have survived

Surabaya, Indonesia (CNN)The man who captained AirAsia Flight QZ8501 lived in a picturesque neighborhood in the suburbs of Surabaya, Indonesia's second-largest city.

We headed there to see if family members or friends wanted to talk to us about him. These types of assignments are never easy. We are well aware that the last thing many people in mourning want to do is to talk to a journalist. I've done this long enough to know that the smart thing is to have the decency to offer condolences and leave if mourners say they don't want to talk.
    But this family didn't feel that way. They were gracious and warm to us, and invited us to join other mourners who were with them.
    Experienced pilot
    The captain of the ill-fated airliner, known only as Irianto -- many Indonesians go by one name -- had been with AirAsia for six years. He had worked for another airline in Indonesia for 13 years before that, and was an Indonesian Air Force pilot for a decade prior.
    When we arrived at his home, his wife, Widya Sukatri Putri, answered the door. She and Irianto have two children; a daughter named Angela who is about to turn 25, and a 7-year-old son named Arya. We told her we wanted to do a story about Irianto, that we hoped to find out what kind of husband and father he was; what kind of man and pilot he was. She invited us inside where we offered our condolences and asked if she would to talk to us on camera. She told us she wasn't sure if she wanted to talk, but invited us to come back later in the morning.
    We came back two hours later and the house was full of family and friends offering support to Widya, her children, and Irianto's elderly mother and father. What was taking place in the house was an Indonesian tradition known as a layat, a visitation by people when there is death in a family. There were dozens of people, old and young, sitting on the floor of Irianto's home. The house was so crowded that other mourners sat out in the front of the house, and some sat at tables that had been put in the middle of the closed off street.
    'Kind and loving' father and husband
    Widya and Angela, her daughter, invited us to sit down with them, and it was there that they decided they did want to say a few words to us about Irianto. The portrait they painted about this man made it clear that he was kind and loving, fun and even-tempered, hard working and dedicated.
    I marveled at how kind Irianto's wife and children were to us, how kind his parents were to us. They were suffering so much, yet they wanted to make us feel at home. I told his daughter not to worry about us. She told me her father had taught her to be hospitable.
    Angela is not ready to give up hope that someway, somehow he and other people on the plane might still be alive. But she knows that is unlikely and told us she is prepared to accept reality.
    This family made it very evident they were lucky to have Irianto in their lives. We said our goodbyes to this gracious family, realizing that the fated plane's pilot was also very lucky to have them.