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Crashed Malaysian plane may have been carrying over 100 AIDS experts

Flowers left at MH17's departing airport in Amsterdam
Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

According to IFLScience, it is possible that as many as 108 AIDS researchers and advocates were on board the Malaysia Airlines flight that crashed in the Ukraine yesterday. If so, the loss would mean a tragic blow to the AIDS community and research field.

A number of individuals on board the flight were traveling to Melbourne for the International AIDS Conference, which is slated to commence this Sunday. In fact, more than 100 attendees were scheduled to take flight MH17. While the airline has not yet released an official list of passengers, it is known that Joep Lange, a leader in AIDS research and former president of the International AIDS Society, was among those on the plane. His partner and ArtAIDS board member, Jacqueline van Tongeren, was also on board.

“Joep had an absolute commitment to HIV treatment and care in Asia and Africa,” director of Kirby Institute David A. Cooper said in a University of New South Wales press-release. Lange's long-time research focused on HIV treatments and made ground-breaking contributions to the development of affordable HIV treatments, IFLScience reports.

International AIDS Society president Francoise Barré-Sinoussi stated that the conference is scheduled to proceed despite the tragedy, as “we know it’s really what they would have liked us to do.”

A statement from the International AIDS Society reads, in part, "The International AIDS Society, convenors of the 20th International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2014), is continuing to work with the authorities to clarify how the tragic loss of Malaysian Airlines flight MH 17 impacts our conference delegates, our conference partners, and our community as a whole. In recognition of our colleagues' dedication to the fight against HIV/AIDS, the conference will go ahead as planned and will include opportunities to reflect and remember those we have lost.

According to the website for the conference, it is the "premier gathering for those working in the field of HIV, as well as policy makers, persons living with HIV and other individuals committed to ending the pandemic. It is a chance to assess where we are, evaluate recent scientific developments and lessons learnt, and collectively chart a course forward."

MH17, a Boeing 777, departed from Amsterdam and crashed on the way to its final destination at Kuala Lumpur. It is believed that the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile. There were 298 people on board.