Dozens of delegates, scientists and researchers on Flight MH17, en-route to an AIDS conference, were among the 298 victims of the crash in Ukraine after it was shot out of the sky over the war-torn area on July 17.
The five day AIDs conference in Melbourne, Australia was almost cancelled as it became evident that many of the dead passengers from flight MH17 were researchers and delegates heading to the conference, convened by the International AIDs Society. A silent, candle-lit vigil has been held at the conference to honor the victims.
Although not all the passengers have been named, it is believed that some of the world’s leading HIV/Aids researchers are among the victims of the doomed flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.
Dutch-born former president of the International AIDS Society Joep Lange and his partner Jacqueline van Tongere have been confirmed as among the dead. Lange was a prominent HIV researcher and a professor at the University of Amsterdam due to speak at the conference. He was also a key researcher behind projects aimed at preventing mother-to-child AIDs transmission and an early advocate of bringing HIV medicines to the developing world.
Referring to her friend Joep Lange, U.S. public health doctor and journalist Dr. Seema Yasmin tweeted from the AIDs conference in Melbourne: “How do we measure how much a person has done for humanity? People like Joep change the course of epidemics.”
One of the nine passengers from the UK was Glenn Thomas. Thomas was a former BBC journalist working as the World Health Organization’s Media Relations Coordinator and was heading to Kuala Lumpur for his connection to Melbourne.
The current death toll stands at 298, which includes 189 Dutch nationals, 44 Malaysians, 27 Australians, 12 Indonesians, nine passengers from the UK, four Germans, four Belgian passengers, three passengers from the Philippines, one Canadian and one passenger from New Zealand. The nationalities of the remaining four passengers are unknown at press time.
Flight MH17 was shot down on July 17 in Eastern Ukraine with anti-aircraft weaponry. Ukraine has been in turmoil since November 2013 when the former President Yanukovych abandoned an agreement on closer ties with the E.U. He was overthrown in February after months of violent protest in the capital, Kiev. Russia then moved to annex the Crimean Peninsula. Other areas in the south east of Ukraine are violently fighting to be independent of Ukraine; the rebels are believed to be supplied and financed by Russia.
The U.S. has criticized Russia for arming separatist rebels in Ukraine who are widely held responsible for perpetrating the attack. President Obama, Joe Biden and John Kerry have, however, stopped short of directly blaming Russia.
Hillary Clinton has made the strongest criticism of Russia, saying that action was needed to “put [Vladimir] Putin on notice that he has gone too far and we are not going to stand idly by.”
Clinton spoke to Charlie Rose on the PBS network, saying, “The questions I’d be asking is, number one, who could have shot it down? Who had the equipment? It’s obviously an anti-aircraft missile. Who could have had the expertise to do that? Because commercial airlines are big targets, but by the time they got over that part of Ukraine they should have been high, so it takes some planning [to target such a plane].”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied Russian involvement in the crash and has said that Ukraine bears the responsibility of the crash. He has since called for opposing sides to lay down their arms and enter talks.
U.K. Prime Minster David Cameron has said it is too early to know who is responsible for the tragedy.
– Charles Bell