Leading HIV charity, the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), has paid tribute to the loss of 298 people, including 100 HIV activists, clinicians and academics, in the Malaysia Airlines crash, to say it is a “cruel blow” which will be “felt for some time.”

Around 100 people due to attend an HIV/AIDS conference in Australia were onboard the flight MH17 when it was shot down over eastern Ukraine, according to reports.

The plane, which was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was a connecting flight for many people heading to the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, which was due to start this weekend.

Speaking to PinkNews, Dr Rosemary Gillespie, Chief Executive at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “We are deeply saddened by the loss of all those aboard MH17, many of them our colleagues from the international HIV field.

“The impact of the hard work and commitment of clinicians, activists and academics who devote their careers to the fight against the epidemic is immeasurable. For the HIV community to lose so many of our leading lights is a cruel blow, and one we will feel for some time.”

The plane was carrying 173 Dutch nationals, 27 Australians, 44 Malaysians (including 15 crew), 12 Indonesians and nine Britons.

Ukraine has set up a no-fly zone following the incident, and international investigators are currently looking into the cause of the crash.