The news didn’t take long to spread before a San Diegan was mourning the loss of a good friend aboard Thursday’s ill-fated Malaysia Airlines jetliner.
For Dr. Douglas Richman, who teaches at University of California San Diego and runs the Center for AIDS Research, the tragedy of the passenger plane downed by a missile fired from a separatist-held region in Ukraine hits very close to home.
“Within an hour or two I think there were people who knew he was on the plane,” said Richman.
He’s referring to Dr. Joep Lange, his friend of 25 years.
Lange was among the nearly 300 passengers on Flight 17. He was on his way to an international AIDS conference in Australia when the jetliner was shot to the ground.
In the aftermath of the disaster, Richman told NBC 7 he can’t help but feel a rush of personal and painful feelings.
“Obviously a bunch of anger – a bunch of jerks who got themselves a big gun and decided to shoot a plane down,” he said.
The two AIDS researchers met in the late 1980s while working in the area of HIV drug resistance and immediately became good friends, visiting each other on a regular basis in the years to come.
“He was a remarkable human being and a great researcher and innovator,” said Richman. “There are many others working in this area, not many who are as clear thinking and innovative as he was.”
Some media outlets are reporting more than 100 AIDS researchers on the doomed flight, although NBC News has not confirmed that number and believes it will turn out to be much lower.
Richman, who opted not to attend this year’s conference, is nervous he will know additional victims if and when they are identified.
On Friday, President Barack Obama confirmed one American, Quinn Schansman, 19, was among those killed on the flight.