Among Flight 17 victims: Adventurers, renowned researchers, young siblings
By LINDSAY WISE | McClatchy Washington Bureau | Published: July 18, 2014
WASHINGTON — A family of four headed to a reunion in the Philippines. A graduate student on summer break with her boyfriend. Two soccer fans following a beloved team to New Zealand.
The 298 passengers and crew aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on Thursday were from at least 10 different countries. Some were flying for business trips, others for adventure, to move abroad or to visit relatives. One man was traveling to his mother’s funeral in Jakarta, Indonesia.
More than 100 of those on board reportedly were researchers and activists headed to an international conference on HIV-AIDS.
At least one was a baby.
Few, if any, probably had any idea that the Boeing 777’s flight path would take it over a hotly contested area of Ukraine, not far from where Ukrainian military aircraft had been shot down in recent days.
Even if they had known, the idea that the conflict raging more than 30,000 feet below them on the ground could threaten them in the air likely never would have crossed their minds.
The plane crashed in Ukraine on Thursday, apparently shot down by a surface-to-air missile. The Ukrainian government blames pro-Russian militants for the tragedy. But the separatists say the Ukrainians are responsible.
The tragedy struck a particularly terrible blow to the world’s community of HIV-AIDS researchers and activists, who were gathering in Melbourne, Australia, for next week’s 20th International AIDS Conference.
President Barack Obama said Friday that almost 100 of the conference’s attendees were killed in Thursday’s crash.
“These were men and women who had dedicated their own lives to saving the lives of others, and they were taken from us in a senseless act of violence,” the president said.
Among them was Joep Lange, the former president of the International AIDS Society and a world-renowned pioneer of antiretroviral therapy, a treatment that helped save countless lives.
Lange had studied AIDS since the emergence of the epidemic in the early 1980s. He campaigned worldwide to make the therapy more easily available and affordable, especially in developing countries where the majority of AIDS infections now occur.
His partner, Jacqueline van Tongeren, a former HIV-AIDS nurse, also died in the crash.
“The HIV community is a close-knit group of people. This definitely is going to reverberate throughout the community,” said Shawn Jain, spokesman for Whitman-Walker Health, a health center specializing in HIV care and research in Washington.
“To lose people like Dr. Lange who were so heavily engaged in efforts to fight HIV is an incalculable loss,” Jain said.
Glenn Thomas, a spokesman for the World Health Organization, also was traveling to the AIDS conference when he died on Flight 17.
Christy Feig, the WHO director of communications, said her team first learned of Thomas’ death on television.
“We normally sit in an open space, and we have a large TV,” Feig said. “At about 5:15 p.m., CNN did some breaking news that the flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur had crashed, and we gasped.”
The staff knew Thomas was traveling on Malaysia Airlines.
“We hurried to find his travel plans, and to get into the computer to see if there was more than one Malaysian flight,” she said. “There was already shock in the office.”
They confirmed Thomas was on the flight and then logged onto Facebook to see his last posting:
“Long day’s journey into the night,” Thomas had written. “Thursday morning departure-Friday night arrival. Travelling to Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.”
Feig said Thomas had called his partner, Claudio Manoel Vilaca-Vanetta, while boarding the plane, and the WHO computer code showed that he had checked in and boarded. “A few hours later Malaysia Airlines rang his twin sister to tell her the sad news,” she said.
Apart from Lange and Thomas, the exact number of victims who were on their way to the AIDS conference — and their names — had yet to be confirmed Friday.
“We are bracing ourselves to hear of the deaths of others who worked in the AIDS response as their names are officially released,” Michel Sidibe, executive director of UNAIDS, said in a statement. “Our hearts go out to the families of all the victims of this tragic crash. The deaths of so many committed people working against HIV will be a great loss for the AIDS response.”
The crash also claimed the lives of parents and grandparents, children and toddlers, students and businesspeople.
The U.S. State Department confirmed at least one American fatality on Friday: Quinn Lucas Schansman, a U.S.-Dutch dual citizen. He was flying to Malaysia to join family members who were already on vacation there, according to reports in the Dutch media.
Schansman’s Facebook profile says he was studying in Amsterdam at the International Business School.
After the crash, his girlfriend, Floor van Dranen, posted a photo on her profile page of the couple kissing. Condolences flooded the comments beneath the picture.
The Gunawan family was on its way to the Philippines for a vacation and to attend an annual family reunion. Hadiono Gunawan, an employee of Malaysia Airlines, is related to an ABC News employee, the network reported. He was traveling with his Filipino wife, Irene, and their two children, Daryl, 15, and Sherryl, 20.
ABC-CBN News reported that Irene had been worried about her relatives in the Philippines because of Typhoon Glinda and had promised to send them packages and money to help.
Before the plane took off, she texted her sister: “I love you.”
Nick Norris, a 68-year-old businessman from Perth, Australia, was accompanying his three grandchildren on the flight so they could make it home to start school on time after a family trip to the Netherlands.
Australian media identified the children as Mo, 12, Evie, 10, and Otis, 8.
The children’s parents were not on the flight. They had decided to stay behind in Amsterdam for a few more days, the website Perth Now reported.
Norris’ daughter, Natalia Gemmell, told Perth Now that her niece and nephews were “beautiful, gentle kids.”
She added, “To lose three beautiful children in a war that isn’t theirs, it’s different. … Anything that leads to innocent children being shot out of the sky is not where we should be heading.”
Charles Tamtelahitu, 63, was en route to his mother’s funeral in Jakarta.
His younger brother, Theo Lekatompessy, told the Jakarta Post that he’d bought Tamtelahitu a ticket for Flight 17 so he could be there for their mother’s burial, which was scheduled for Friday. She died on Wednesday, Lekatompessy said.
“I got him the ticket. He was to fly from Amsterdam to Jakarta via Kuala Lumpur. It has only led to more grief,” he told the Jakarta Post.
Karlijn Keijzer, a 25-year-old doctoral student in the chemistry department at Indiana University, had just prepared a computer simulation on a drug used to treat cancer and Alzheimer’s disease before catching the Malaysia Airlines flight for a short summer vacation with her boyfriend, Laurens van der Graaff.
Described as a brilliant student by faculty and staff at Indiana University, Keijzer also was a formidable athlete. She rowed on the varsity-eight boat and helped the university’s women’s rowing team earn a 14-5 record during the 2011 season.
Mu-Hyun Baik, an associate professor of chemistry and informatics at Indiana University, said Keijzer “was a kind, happy young woman full of ideas about the future. She inspired us all with her optimism about how science will make Earth a better place.”
Among the nine British citizens who were killed was 20-year-old Richard Mayne, who had just finished his second year at Leeds University in England. He was studying math and finance.
Mayne was a rugby player who had raised money for disadvantaged children by climbing to a Mount Everest base camp in Nepal in March, according to his Facebook profile.
He was on his way to spend a year studying abroad at the University of Western Australia at Perth. He chose the flight because he was excited to spend the layover in Amsterdam, his father, Simon, told the Daily Mail, a British tabloid.
“When I first saw it on the news, my heart dropped. I just thought, oh God, oh God — I couldn’t believe it,” the father said. “We were hoping and praying he had fallen asleep at Amsterdam and missed his flight.”
He said he can’t even bear to look at a photo of his son.
“We are beyond devastated,” he said.
Britons John Alder and Liam Sweeney, both big fans of the soccer team Newcastle United, were flying to New Zealand to cheer on the Magpies in a preseason tour, the Newcastle Chronicle reported.
Alder, nicknamed “the Undertaker” by fellow Newcastle United fans, was known for his habit of wearing a black suit to games.
Since 1973 he had missed only one match, even traveling to the United States, Thailand and New Zealand for away games, according to the Chronicle.
“John was a permanent fixture at Newcastle United,” Fanzine writer Steve Wraith told the Chronicle. “It’s so sad that he’s lost his life in such tragic circumstances. I just can’t comprehend it. He has died doing something he loved — traveling to watch his team Newcastle United. My thoughts are with his family.”
McClatchy special correspondent John Zarocostas contributed to this report from Geneva.