Families of two young Irish doctors on board the Air France airliner that vanished over the Atlantic spoke today of their heartbreak at the loss of their daughters.
Eithne Walls, 28, from Ballygowan, Co Down, and Aisling Butler, of Roscrea, Co Tipperary, were returning from a holiday in Brazil with their friend Jane Deasy from Dublin when the tragedy occurred.
The young women were forging medical careers and had been in South America with friends who graduated with them from Trinity College Dublin two years ago.
Dr Butler, who graduated in 2007, worked in hospitals in Limerick and Portlaoise.
Her parents John and Evelyn and her sister Lorna issued a statement through their solicitor and also offered the Walls and Deasy families their sympathies.
“Aisling was very talented and a high achiever with a very promising career,” the Butler family said.
“She was also full of fun, caring and kind, a devoted daughter and sister.
“At this stage the family are merely trying to come to terms with this shocking news.”
Mr Butler said his daughter, who celebrated her 26th birthday two weeks ago, lived for her job as a young doctor but also enjoyed life to the full.
Her father John described how he heard about the missing plane and initially thought she was on a later flight but decided to check the travel details in his deleted emails.
She was an intern in Tallaght Hospital, Dublin, and was due to move on to St James’s Hospital in the city next month.
Dr Deasy’s family were unavailable for comment but Joseph Deasy, a consultant surgeon in Beaumont Hospital Dublin, has appealed for privacy.
Wreckage believed to be from the Air France jet including a seat, a life jacket and signs of fuel were seen from the air about 410 miles north of the Brazilian island of Fernando de Noronha – roughly along the jet’s flight path.
All 228 people from 32 countries on board the airliner, including a baby and seven children, are feared dead.
Provost of Trinity College Dublin John Hegarty sent a message of sympathy.
“The loss of such young, vibrant and promising women at the outset of their careers in medicine and in such tragic circumstances has stunned the college from which they so recently graduated,” Dr Hegarty said.
Dr Walls’s parents Raymond and Mary paid tribute to their daughter, a talented Irish dancer who performed on Broadway with the world-famous 'Riverdance' troupe.
“Eithne was an extraordinary person who brought light to the lives of everyone she touched,” the Walls family said.
“She was beautiful in every way, especially of spirit. She had a passion for life that permeated, enlivened and enriched those around her.
“We feel privileged to have shared her too short life, and the countless memories of her will stay with us forever.”
The young doctor worked in Dublin’s Eye and Ear Hospital and was a talented Irish dancer who had won medals nationally and internationally before joining 'Riverdance' in 2000.
'Riverdance' producer Julian Erskine paid a glowing tribute to the talented dancer.
“We are all in a state of shock,” he said. “She was great fun. She was always smiling – a sparkly, bright person.”
The family added: “Eithne, we will miss your easy smile. We will miss your loving embrace.
“We will miss your happy hello. We will miss your dancing feet.
“We will miss your silliness, your wit and your hugs. We will always hold you in our hearts and you are never truly gone.”
Two Aer Lingus employees were also on the flight.
“Aer Lingus is working closely with Air France, the French authorities and the respective embassies of the two staff members at this difficult time,” the airline said.
The young women had gone on a two-week holiday to Brazil to visit other college friends who were travelling on to Australia.
Irish embassies in both France and Brazil are keeping in close contact with the investigators.
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.