MELBOURNE, Australia - Approximately one hundred attendees heading to an international aids conference in Australia are among the victims of the downed Malaysia Airlines flight. Many at 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia offer a first-hand take of what the conference - and the world - may have lost.
14,000 people are in Australia for this huge event. Attendees and organizers say that the conference must go on even in the face of a worldwide tragedy. Even as the sun came up over eastern Ukraine Friday, what was left of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was still smoldering. Some of the world's top HIV/AIDS researchers were on board.
Ben Clapham, an HIV/AIDS activist, who has worked worldwide, was already safely on the ground in Australia when he - and so many other conference attendees - got the news.
"From researchers, to donors to activists, it's already being felt here in Melbourne," said Clapham via Skype from Australia.
Clapham talked about what the conference - and the world - lost as MH17 crashed to the ground.
"The research and results that they bring and their passion for doing HIV activism is lost and can't be replaced," he said.
U.S. intelligence agencies confirm that a surface-to-air missile was fired at the aircraft.
It is still not known how many of the 298 on board were AIDS researchers traveling to the conference.
"Sometimes it's a pretty jovial mood and this year, it's definitely somber and quite emotional," said Clapham, who was supposed to be part of a panel discussion with a woman believed to have been killed. It is out of respect for that woman and the other victims that the conference goes on.
Former President Bill Clinton is listed as one of the featured speakers for the conference which continues through the weekend.