HOUSTON – The tragedy of Malaysia Flight 17 is hitting close to home for Houston's AIDS research community.
About 100 AIDS researchers were on board the flight, headed to an international AIDS conference in Australia, according to officials. Among the victims is top researcher Joseph Lange, a Dutch father of five.
"I found him to be not just a good physician, but a fantastic research physician, as well as a humanitarian and a family man," said Dr. Joseph Gathe of Houston.
Gathe, an infectious disease specialist, befriended Lange 20 years ago. They remained friends through the years, meeting up at AIDS conferences. The last time Gathe saw Lange was about six months ago at a conference.
"He looked great and he was his usual self," Lange said. "He asked if I wanted to grab a cup of cappuccino and he talked about his research."
Gathe says the loss of Lange and so many other talented experts will no doubt be felt across the AIDS research community.
"I'm still unable to process it at this point, it just feels like it's a bad dream I'm going to wake up from," Gathe said.
Volunteers and doctors at Houston's Thomas Street Health Center are also mourning the victims. At noon on Friday, they held a moment of silence.
"It hurts because we really need someone to figure out what's going to help the people out here get well," said Eleeshree Armstrong, who is HIV-positive.
According to its website, the AIDS conference will go on as planned, but it will include opportunities to remember those on board Flight 17.
"As we await the names of the people who were on the plane, it really brings it home to you," Dr. Charlene Flash said. "It could be a loved one or a colleague."