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Researcher on downed plane 'special friend, special man'

Posted July 18, 2014

— The director of Duke University's Global Health Institute remembered a colleague Friday as "a special friend and a special man."

Michael H. Merson is a professor at Duke and was working closely with Joep Lange, one of the travelers on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. Lange, the former president of the International AIDS Society and a well-known researcher from the Netherlands died Thursday when that flight was shot down over Ukraine.

The men met in 1992 and worked together at the World Health Organization where they collaborated on efforts to treat AIDS, especially in poorer countries.

"He found ways to bring the price of drugs down, and he found ways to convince decision makers this was a priority," Merson said of Lange, "all of it on top of being a top scientist."

“We grieve Joep Lange’s death and those of the other AIDS activists and scientists who have tragically died traveling to the 2014 International AIDS Conference in Melbourne.”

Chris Beyrer, president-elect of the International AIDS Society, said "the HIV/AIDS movement has truly lost a giant."

Many of the almost 300 people on board the doomed airliner were heading from Amsterdam to Melbourne, Australia, for the AIDS conference, which begins Sunday.

American intelligence authorities believe a surface-to-air missile brought down the aircraft, but it was not yet clear who fired it.

In a speech Friday, President Barack Obama noted the loss to the world scientific community.

"These were men and women who dedicated their own lives to saving the lives of others," he said. "They were taken from us in a senseless act of violence."

Merson's personal relationship with a victim defines his experience of the tragedy. 

"When you have one that touches you, you realize everyone of these involves human beings," he said.


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  • Rod Runner Jul 18, 2014
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    Yes, it was likely to save fuel or money. The airspace was never restricted, there was just a warning posted about flying in it.

    Some airlines chose to start flying around and some chose to keep flying that way to save money.

  • moomoo Jul 18, 2014

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    298 innocent people died and all you have to find fault with is the difference between "tragic" and "Murderous"--geez.

  • Jul 18, 2014

    The airspace over that part of the Ukraine is basically a war zone. Why any airline would fly in that area is a good question - to save fuel maybe? The plane should have never been targeted until identified as friend or foe. Bad move on whoever pressed the button. Very bad for all those who died.

  • mvenable Jul 18, 2014

    You war hawks do realize that there's a transcript of an intercepted call between Russian intelligence and Ukrainians where it appears that they did not know it was a civilian airliner until it was already destroyed, right? Why would an airline fly over a war zone anyway? It was an accident, stop your quest for blood.

  • areyououtofyourmind Jul 18, 2014

    I can't believe the article says, "Flight 17... crashed Thursday..."

    Crashed? Really?

  • Eq Videri Jul 18, 2014
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    Not in the usual sense of accidental misfortune. That's too mild. This was an outrageous mass killing.

    Tragic is when a rescuer is killed while trying to help others. Or when a good person turns bad. Or illness ends a life too soon.

    Mass murder, on the other hand, is outrageous, reprehensible, and unacceptable.

    There is a difference.

  • Chase Truman Jul 18, 2014
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    You don't think his death (ie murder) was tragic? I think most people would say everyone's death on that plane was tragic.

  • "Screen Name-8/20" Jul 18, 2014

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    If there's a story there, and there is here, what would you expect them to do?

    It's not like they published something about the Kardashians (gag).

    This man has bereaved colleages here. Acknowledging their grief is a good thing to do.

  • "Screen Name-8/20" Jul 18, 2014

    Awww, prayers for the loved ones of all who died on that plane.

    I pray they all went quickly and that one day we'll know the truth of what happened.

  • Eq Videri Jul 18, 2014
    user avatar

    He didn't die "tragically." He died murderously. There is an important difference.