SYDNEY (AP) - A large number of world-renowned AIDS researchers and activists heading to an international AIDS conference in Australia were on board a Malaysian jetliner that was shot down over Ukraine, officials said Friday, as news of their deaths sparked an outpouring of grief across the global scientific community.
There have been unconfirmed reports that up to 100 people on board the Boeing 777 were en route to the Victoria state capital of Melbourne to attend the 20th International AIDS conference, which starts Sunday, Victoria Premier Denis Napthine said, though he hastened to add that reports were conflicting and it was far too premature to give a precise figure.
"There's been confirmed a number of senior people who were coming out here who were researchers, who were medical scientists, doctors, people who've been to the forefront of dealing with AIDS across the world," Napthine told reporters in Melbourne. "The exact number is not yet known, but there is no doubt it's a substantial number."
The plane, which was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, crashed Thursday with 298 people on board. American intelligence authorities believe a surface-to-air missile brought the aircraft down but it was not yet clear who fired it.
At least 27 Australians were confirmed to be on board the plane, which was scheduled to continue flying to Australia after stopping in Kuala Lumpur, Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop told reporters in Brisbane.