Updated: Friday, July 18, 2014
SYDNEY — A prominent researcher, two activists and at least three others headed to an AIDS conference in Australia were on the Malaysian jetliner shot down over Ukraine, news that sparked an outpouring of grief across the scientific community.
Among the passengers were a former president of the International AIDS Society, Joep Lange, a well-known researcher from the Netherlands, and World Health Organization spokesman Glenn Thomas, based in Geneva.
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, when it crashed Thursday in eastern Ukraine. How many of the nearly 300 on board were headed to the conference wasn’t immediately known.
The 20th International AIDS conference starts Sunday in the Victoria state capital of Melbourne. Thousands of scientists and activists are expected to attend to discuss the latest developments in HIV and AIDS research.
The Academic Medical Center hospital in Amsterdam said in a statement that two of its staff, Lange and his colleague Jacqueline van Tongeren, were believed to have perished.
“Joep was a man who knew no barriers,” the hospital said. “He was a great inspiration for everybody who wanted to do something about the AIDS tragedy in Africa and Asia.”
Article continues belowVan Tongeren was head of communications at the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development and had previously been an HIV-AIDS nurse, a University of Amsterdam statement said.
Lange was the institute’s executive scientific director.
Nobel laureate Dr. Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, co-discoverer of the AIDS virus and president of the International AIDS Society, paid tribute to Lange in a speech in the Australian capital, Canberra. The international society sponsors the AIDS conference
“Joep was a wonderful person – a great professional … but more than that, a wonderful human being,” she said. “If it is confirmed, it will be a terrible loss for all of us. I have no words, really, to try to express my sadness. I feel totally devastated.”
She later told reporters the conference would continue out of respect for the lives lost: “Because we know that it’s really what they would like us to do.”