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Plane crash claims top HIV-AIDS researchers - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Plane crash claims top HIV-AIDS researchers

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

Some 298 people are feared dead following the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 Thursday.

"They were taken from us in a senseless act of violence," President Barack Obama said.

Officials say the plane was shot down over Eastern Ukraine by a surface-to-air missile. There is no confirmation yet on who is responsible for the attack.

But new details reveal that as many as 100 top HIV-AIDS researchers from around the globe may be among the dead. Reports say they were on their way to an international conference in Melbourne, Australia.

"In the world today we shouldn't forget that in the midst of conflict and killing there are people like these, people who are focused on what can be built rather than be destroyed," the president said.

And those fighting for a cure here in the Green Mountain State say this is a devastating loss for the community.

"Losing so many AIDS-HIV researchers in one instant, who are people trying to save other people's lives, really is devastating," Carol Altobelli said.

Altobelli works for Vermont CARES, a nonprofit organization that works with Vermonters affected by the disease.

"Basically it really can set us back in trying to find a cure or a vaccine for AIDS or the HIV virus. So, this really is devastating and dreadful on so many levels," Altobelli said.

And at Fletcher Allen Health Care, Deborah Kutzko treats the majority of HIV-positive patients across the state. She says the conference the researchers were attending is a gathering of some of the brightest medical minds in the world. And she says this is not only a tragic loss of life, but could also be a loss of critical information.

"The only saving grace is that we write papers and I'm sure none of them worked alone in their labs, but this certainly will be hard for everyone," Kutzko said.

One of those confirmed dead is the former president of the International AIDS Society and research pioneer, Dr. Joep Lange. He was known among the community as one of the leading researchers in the field. But again, all of the names of those traveling on the flight have not yet been released. And Friday, the president said at least one American was on board.

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