July 17, 2014 | by Michael K. Lavers
HIV researchers reportedly among victims of Ukraine plane crash

Australia, South Australia, HIV, AIDS,

A number of prominent HIV/AIDS researchers who were traveling to the 2014 International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia, were reportedly passengers on a Malaysian airliner that was apparently shot down in eastern Ukraine on Thursday. (Image by MJC via Wikimedia)

Reports indicate a number of prominent HIV/AIDS researchers and advocates who were traveling to the 2014 International AIDS Conference were among those on the Malaysian airliner that was apparently shot down in eastern Ukraine on Thursday.

Joep Lange, a prominent Dutch HIV researcher who is a former president of the International AIDS Society, which organizes biennial gathering that is scheduled to begin in Melbourne, Australia, on July 20, is reportedly among the 283 passengers and 15 crew members who were on Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. Pim de Kuijer, another Dutch national who worked for Stop AIDS Now, and Glenn Thomas of the World Health Organization are among those who were also reportedly on the flight.

An Australian newspaper is reporting as many as 100 HIV/AIDS advocates were on Flight 17.

Malaysian Airlines said on its Twitter page that it will release the names of the passengers who were on the flight once their next-of-kin have been notified.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported Flight 17 was to have connected with another Malaysian Airlines flight that is scheduled to arrive in Melbourne on Friday.

“The International AIDS Society today expresses its sincere sadness receiving 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,” said the International AIDS Society in a statement. “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.”

Philip Tijsma of COC Nederland, a Dutch LGBT advocacy group, told the Washington Blade “it’s certain that several” HIV/AIDS advocates from the Netherlands were on Flight 17.

He said members of his organization had already arrived in Australia when the flight crashed.

“It’s a tragedy,” said Tijsma.

Whitman-Walker Health is among the HIV/AIDS service organizations and other groups that have expressed condolences to those who were on Flight 17, their families and colleagues.

“HRC wishes to extend our condolences to the friends and families of everyone aboard Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17,” said the Human Rights Campaign on Thursday. “We are deeply saddened to learn about the deaths of the many HIV/AIDS advocates believed to be on the plane. HRC joins the international community in mourning the loss of all those who lost their lives today, including such dedicated health professionals. They will be sorely missed.”

Rod McCullom, a Chicago-based journalist who reports on global HIV/AIDS and health issues, arrived in Melbourne on Thursday before Flight 17 crashed in Ukraine.

“It’s a cold, somber and bittersweet morning in Melbourne on the eve of the opening of AIDS 2014,” wrote McCullom on his Facebook page. “The Malaysian Airlines jet that was shot down over Ukraine apparently was carrying a number of researchers, scientists and NGO (non-governmental organization) employees bound for AIDS 2014 Melbourne. Prayers for them, their families and all the loved ones of the many passengers and crew. A horrible and senseless tragedy.”

McCullom told the Washington Blade through Facebook that people who are in the lobby of the convention center where the 2014 International AIDS Conference will take place are crying.

He said one of the organizers of a pre-conference gathering on men who have sex with men who he met at the airport in Sydney said he was “looking forward to meeting several colleagues from Amsterdam.” McCullom told the Blade the man was not sure whether they were scheduled to travel to Melbourne through Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok.

“I encountered many people headed to the conference on the long flight from (San Francisco) and the short flight from (Sydney),” said McCullom. “As usual on these trips, everyone seemed very excited about the conference. I’ve only spoken with several people this morning and the mood is more guarded. Such a senseless tragedy. What a strange twist of irony that people working to end suffering would die so violently.”

The 2012 International AIDS Conference took place in D.C.

The Blade will provide further updates on this story as they become available.

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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