Three young Irish women onboard the Air France airliner which vanished over the Atlantic Ocean were best friends who were forging out promising careers as doctors.
They were returning home after a holiday in Brazil with other friends who graduated with them from Trinity College Dublin two years ago.
They were named locally last night as Aisling Butler, of Roscrea, Co Tipperary, Jane Deasy of Dublin and Eithne Walls, originally from Belfast.
They were travelling together on the flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris along with a fourth woman, a British national from Wales.
Aisling’s heartbroken father John said he couldn’t describe his family’s grief.
“We know Aisling is gone, we are sure of that,” he said. “It is just about trying to live now, I have to live for my wife and my only other daughter Lorna.”
When he heard about the missing plane he initially thought Aisling’s flight was due in the following day but decided to checked the travel details in his deleted emails.
“When I opened it up a nightmare opened up as well,” he said.
Mr Butler said his daughter, who celebrated her 26th birthday just over two weeks ago, lived for her job as a young doctor but also enjoyed life to the full.
She was doing an internship in Tallaght Hospital, Dublin, and was due to move onto St James’ Hospital in the city next month.
“She never flunked an exam in her life, nailed everyone of them and took it all in her stride as well,” said Mr Butler, who owns an international transport company.
“She was a truly wonderful, exciting girl. I just can’t describe how we feel,” he said.
The young women had gone on a two-week holiday to Brazil to visit other college friends who were travelling on to Australia.
Eileen Doherty, a family friend of the Butler family, said Aisling’s mother Evelyn was seriously injured in a bad accident many years ago, although she has recovered.
“I always felt the Lord put a doctor in that family to look after Evelyn, and now she’s gone,” she said.
“She was such a lovely, cheerful, happy girl. Evelyn loved going to Dublin to see her, she was a laugh a minute.”
President Mary McAleese said she was thinking about the families of the missing passengers.
“My thoughts and prayers, and the thoughts of everyone, this evening are with the Irish families and the families of everyone on board at this very difficult time,” she said.
Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, where the missing plane was destined for, is a popular hub for Irish travellers using the CityJet services from Dublin and Shannon to the French capital.
Foreign Affairs Minister Micheál Martin said his officials have notified the families of the Irish passengers on board the plane which vanished yesterday.
“We have contacted the families of those involved and are offering full consular assistance,” he said.
“It is clear from the passenger list that there are many people across Europe and in Brazil who face an anxious wait for news and our thoughts are with them during this difficult time.”
Irish embassies in both France and Brazil are keeping in close contact with the investigators.
All 228 people on board the airliner, including a baby and seven children, are feared dead.
The passenger list also includes 61 French and 58 Brazilians among the 32 nationalities on board.
Air France said its Airbus A330 aircraft flying from Rio de Janeiro to Paris had run into stormy weather with strong turbulence around four hours into the flight.
About 15 minutes after the turbulence message, an automatic message was received from the plane – AF447 – indicating a failure in the electrical circuit.
Brazilian Air Force planes are searching for the missing aircraft, which Air France said could have been struck by lightning.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen said the Government was deeply concerned and wanted to express its solidarity with families who are anxiously waiting for news of loved ones.
“Our primary concern is for the families during this difficult time,” he said.
“The Government is offering support to the families as they wait news of their loved ones.”