SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — About 100 of the passengers on the Malaysia Airlines flight that was shot down over the Ukraine on Thursday were reportedly AIDS scientists and researchers heading to Australia for a conference.
World Health Organization spokesperson Glenn Thomas was also among the victims.
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The International AIDS Conference is taking place in Melbourne this weekend, organized by the International AIDS Society, who released a statement following the crash.
“The International AIDS Society (IAS) today expresses its sincere sadness at receiving the news that a number of colleagues and friends en route to attend the 20th International AIDS Conference taking place in Melbourne, Australia, were on board the Malaysian Airlines MH17 flight that has crashed over Ukraine earlier today. At this incredibly sad and sensitive time the IAS stands with our international family and sends condolences to the loved ones of those who have been lost to this tragedy.”
“Today, we apparently lost 100 of our best and brightest,” Cleve Jones, co-founder of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, told KPIX 5 Thursday night. “It’s just heartbreaking. We’re a family.”
Dr. Joep Lange of The Netherlands, a former president of the IAS and renowned HIV researcher was on board the flight.
“The loss of his expertise and his leadership is a blow…I don’t know how we will ever replace him,” Jones said. “We’re dedicated to eradicating HIV/AIDS. And today, that hoped for outcome seems even further away.”
Jones said Dr. Paul Volberding of the UCSF AIDS Research Institute is already in Australia for the conference when the plane was shot down.
The passenger plane carrying 298 people was shot down over eastern Ukraine on Thursday, and both the government and the pro-Russia separatists fighting in the region denied any responsibility for downing the aircraft.
There was no sign of any survivors from Flight 17, which took off shortly after noon Thursday from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur with 283 passengers, including three infants, and a crew of 15. Malaysia’s prime minister said there was no distress call before the plane went down and that the flight route was declared safe by the International Civil Aviation Organization.