Many of the passengers on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 were heading to an AIDS conference in Melbourne, Australia, according to several Australian news outlets.
The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian both reported that a conference member told the gathering that more than 100 conference members were killed in the air strike and crash, but that figure has not been confirmed elsewhere. In its official statement, the International AIDS Society did not cite any casualty figures.
The World Health Organization confirmed that the group’s spokesperson Glenn Thomas was among the dead in Thursday’s disaster. Dutch AIDS researcher Joep Lange was also reportedly a passenger on the doomed plane, according to friends and family on social media.
Conference host the International AIDS Society released the following statement:
The International AIDS Society today expresses its sincere sadness at receiving news that 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.
The IAS is hearing unconfirmed reports that some of our friends and colleagues were on board the flight and if that is the case this is a truly sad day.
The IAS has also heard reports that among the passengers was a former IAS President Joep Lange and if that is the case then the HIV/AIDS movement has truly lost a giant.
The International AIDS Society then announced today, “the conference will go ahead as planned and will include opportunities to reflect and remember those we have lost.”
The Guardian reported that Trevor Stratton, an HIV/AIDS consultant, told the ABC:
“The cure for AIDS may have been on that plane, we just don’t know. You can’t just help but wonder about the kind of expertise on that plane.”
Flight MH17 was shot down while over Ukrainian airspace, according to US Intelligence figures. There were 298 people on the flight, including 15 crew members and three infants, according to the airline. No one has claimed responsibility for the missile strike.