A man takes a picture of the passenger list from AirAsia flight QZ8501 at Juanda International Airport in Surabaya. (Reuters)

Call it fate, or luck, or simply a miracle. For 26 people who missed AirAsia’s ill-fated Flight QZ8501 on Sunday, disappointment turned to deep relief when they learned that their lives might have been improbably spared.

More than half of those passengers belonged to just two families who had planned to be on long-awaited vacations this week but instead are now shocked and grateful to have avoided the region’s third airline disaster this year.

Chandra Susanto, his wife and three children began planning a family vacation to a resort and water park in March. But just before they were scheduled to leave for Singapore, Susanto’s father became so ill that they were forced to cancel the trip.

His 10-year-old son, Christopher, was in tears.

“It was a difficult decision to make, because my son Christopher was so disappointed. He had been looking forward to the holiday for a long time,” Susanto told the Daily Mail.

After encountering bad weather en route from Juanda International Airport in Surabaya to Singapore, Indonesia AirAsia Flight QZ8501 lost contact with air-traffic controllers. The aircraft is now believed to be at the bottom of the sea.

When Susanto’s phone rang this weekend, it was his sister calling to find out if he and his family were safe. It was the first he had heard about the missing flight.

Susanto and his wife, Inge Goreti Ferdiningsih, broke the news to their son, who, like his parents, was in disbelief.

“When we told him the plane was missing, he didn’t believe us until we showed him the tickets,” Ferdiningsih told Bloomberg.

Anggi Mahesti and nine members of her extended family were supposed to be on board the plane, as well. It would have been their first vacation together with two infants who had been born this year, she told Bloomberg.

But somehow, her 10-person party missed two notifications earlier this month that the flight time had been moved up by two hours.

They realized their mistake too late. Mahesti, her husband and children, along with her brother-in-law’s family, rushed to the airport in two separate cars, trying to make it to the gate in time.

“It was already the final call when my husband reached the airport in the first car with our bags,” Mahesti told Bloomberg. “Most of the family were in another car that arrived 15 minutes later. The plane left without us.”

They had planned to go to Universal Studios and Snow City theme parks in Singapore. Hours into their efforts to reschedule flights with the airline, they heard the terrible news.

“An airport official told my husband it was a Christmas gift from God to our family,” said Mahesti, who was a runner-up for Miss Indonesia in 2008. “We decided not to fly after that because we were scared and didn’t want to tempt fate.”

As families wait for the search for the missing AirAsia flight to resume, the Indonesian vice president details the plan to find the plane. (Reuters)

The unthinkable had happened again in Southeast Asia. Fear and uncertainty still lingers after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared over the Indian Ocean and another Malaysia Airlines plane, Flight 17, was shot down in Ukrainian airspace earlier this year.

For Susanto, his family’s good fortune is bittersweet.

“I am very thankful to God for his mercy for me and my family. But I am so sad and very sorry for the people on the plane,” he said, according to the Daily Mail. “Our lives have changed. We are so grateful. We have an opportunity to be the best people we can and to help others. We are so thankful to God.”

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