Malaysian minister defends route of flight MH17

Malaysian minister defends route of flight MH17

Malaysian Airlines is still trying to determine the nationality of 18 people on board flight MH17.

It is believed they did not go through passport control in Amsterdam because they had been in transit from previous flights, making it harder to find out their details.

***

BREAKDOWN OF VICTIMS' NATIONALITIES

Netherlands: 173

Malaysia: 44 (including 15 crew and two infants)

Australia: 28

Indonesia: 12 (including one infant)

United Kingdom: 9

Germany: 4

Belgium: 4

Philippines: 3

Canada: 1

New Zealand: 1

Hong Kong: 1

Unconfirmed nationalities: 18

***

The plane is believed to have been hit by a missile before crashing in Ukraine yesterday, killing 298 people on board.

Malaysia is sending a 62-strong team to Kiev to help in the investigation into what happened.

All sides in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine have denied responsibility for the incident.

The Malaysian Transport Minister has defended the flight path the plane was taking, saying it was approved by international aviation authorities.

"15 out of 16 airlines in the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines fly this route over Ukraine; European airlines also use the same route and travel in the same airspace," he said.

"In the hours before the incident, a number of other passenger aircraft from different carriers used the same route," he added.

It has come out that world-renowned Aids researchers and activists heading to an international conference in Australia were on board the downed jet.

The Australian newspaper reported that up to 108 researchers were aboard the flight heading for the conference.

News of their deaths sparked an outpouring of grief across the global scientific community.

The World Health Organisation’s Geneva-based spokesman Glenn Thomas - reportedly British – who was travelling to the conference, was also among the dead, said Christian Lindmeier, spokesman for WHO’s Western Pacific region.

“Everybody’s devastated,” Mr Lindmeier said. “It’s a real blow.”

“A number of people” on board the Boeing 777 were on their way to the southern Australian city of Melbourne to attend the 20th International Aids Conference, which starts on Sunday, Australian foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop said in Brisbane.

At least 27 Australians were confirmed to be on board the plane, which was scheduled to continue flying to the western Australian city of Perth after stopping in Kuala Lumpur, Ms Bishop said.

Among the passengers was former president of the International Aids Society Joep Lange, a well-known HIV researcher from the Netherlands.

“There are Australians who would have planned to be at the airport tomorrow night to greet friends and family – amongst them, some of the world’s leading Aids experts,” opposition leader Bill Shorten said in parliament.

“The cost of this will be felt in many parts of the world.”

Chris Beyrer, president-elect of the International Aids Society, said if reports of Mr Lange’s death were true, “then the HIV/Aids movement has truly lost a giant.”

Nobel laureate Dr Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, co-discoverer of the Aids virus and president of the International Aids Society, paid tribute to Mr Lange in the Australian capital Canberra.

“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”.

Mr Lange had been working on HIV since the earliest years of the epidemic, participating in clinical trials and research across the world, Dr Barre-Sinoussi said. He had dedicated his life, she said, to “the benefit of mankind”.

Sharon Lewin, co-chairman of the conference, called Mr Lange a true renaissance man, who also had a keen interest in arts and literature.

“He was passionate about his job and passionate about global health and improving people’s lives in low-income countries,” she said. “He was quite visionary actually, I think since the very early days of the epidemic and could see what the challenges were that lay ahead.”

Former US President Bill Clinton will deliver an address at next week’s Aids conference, which brings together thousands of scientists and activists from around the world to discuss the latest developments in research.

Australian House of Representatives speaker Bronwyn Bishop called for a moment of silence in parliament to honour the victims. She will address the Aids conference on Monday.

“I know there will be many empty spots,” Ms Bishop said. “And I think that what we’re doing is mourning with all of the world and all that had been lost. And we want to see justice but in a measured way.”

The International Aids Society issued a statement expressing its grief over the news that several of its colleagues and friends were on board.

“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,” the group said.

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