TIME Australia

Australian Flight Attendant Reminds Cabin to Flush Drugs Down Toilet

Qantas Returns to Profit as Emirates Tie-Up Boosts Long-Haul
A Jetstar plane leaves Kingsford Smith Airport in Sydney on Aug. 29, 2013 Jeremy Piper—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Such announcements are routine, but this employee's words were "poorly chosen," Australian airline Jetstar said

Australia’s reputation as a haven perennially secure from terrorist threats may have come into question recently, but it seems that air travel in the country is still a pretty lax affair.

The Daily Telegraph, a Sydney newspaper, reports that a flight attendant on domestic airline Jetstar kindly reminded passengers aboard a Sydney-bound flight to flush their drugs and other contraband down the aircraft toilet prior to landing. There were, she said, “sniffer dogs and quarantine officers” waiting in the domestic terminal.

A number of passengers were returning from the Splendour in the Grass music festival — which could explain why, upon the flight attendant’s announcement, there was allegedly a mad dash for the lavatory.

Australian airlines are indeed required to make a “quarantine announcement” if such measures are being taken at the final destination. Jetstar told the Telegraph that the words of this particular employee — who, according to the initial report, is “casually employed” — were “poorly chosen.”

TIME Australia

Bloodcurdling Images of Australian Jihadists Puts ‘Lucky Country’ on Edge

Australians protest Israeli attacks in Melbourne
Thousands of people stage a demonstration to protest the Israeli ongoing attacks in Gaza on July 26, 2014, in Melbourne, Australia. Recep Sakar—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Shocking photos emerge amid fears that the worsening conflict in Gaza will only prompt more young radical Muslims to enter the fray

The phenomenon of Australian jihadists fighting in the Middle East took a disturbing new turn last week when photos of a Caucasian man in mujahedin fatigues holding decapitated heads were posted on Twitter.

It follows the uploading last month of a YouTube video by the extremist Sunni group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) of two men with thick Australian accents calling on Westerners to join their violent quest to create a Muslim caliphate.

One of the pair, a teenager from Melbourne identified in the video as Abu Bakr al-Australi, later detonated an explosive belt in a crowded Baghdad marketplace, killing five people and wounding 90 more. He was the second Australian suicide bomber praised by ISIS in recent weeks; an estimated 200 Australian jihadists are currently fighting in Syria and Iraq.

The figure puts Australia in the unenviable position as the highest foreign per capita contributor to the conflict in the Middle East, and providing the largest contingent of foreign fighters from a developed nation. And there are fears that the worsening conflict in Gaza will only prompt more radical young Muslims to enter the fray.

“The government is gravely concerned by the fact that Australian citizens are heading to Iraq and Syria not only to fight but to take leadership roles,” Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in parliament last week. She paused before adding, “There’s a real danger that these extremists also come back home as trained terrorists and pose a threat to our security.”

The man holding the decapitated heads in the Twitter feed turned out to be Khaled Sharrouf, a boxer from Sydney who was jailed for four years in 2005 for his role in planning the most serious terrorist plot Australia has ever seen. Despite his notoriety, Sharrouf managed to flee while on parole in January by using his brother’s passport to board a flight from Sydney to Southeast Asia from where he made his way to Syria.

The security breakdown has made Canberra redouble efforts to protect the nation from jihadists in the event they return home. Earlier this month, the attorney general’s office added ISIS to its list of terrorists organizations, making it a crime for an Australian to join them punishable with up to 25 years imprisonment.

On advice from intelligence agencies, the Foreign Ministry has canceled the passports of 40 Australians suspected of extremist links. More than $700 million in additional funding will be injected into customs and border patrol over the next six years. In 2015 the service will be streamlined under a tough new national-security agency named the Australian Border Force.

Professor Gary Bouma, acting director of the Global Terrorism Research Centre at Melbourne’s Monash University, agrees that returning jihadists pose “a very serious problem, as they will be ideologically energized.” But he adds some will have been pacified after witnessing the “hideous gore of battle and the unrighteousness of all sides.”

“The first thing that needs to happen is those people need to be reintegrated into society,” Bouma says. “That means counseling, getting them a job and ensuring their cultural and social needs are met. It’s a much healthier approach than isolating them.”

The leader of an Australian Muslim organization who spoke to TIME on condition of anonymity says calling foreign combatants in Syria “terrorists” was wrong, as many had gone there to protect family members from President Bashar Assad’s repressive regime, which has unleashed torture, mass killings, starvation and chemical weapons upon Syrian civilians.

“The idea of them being terrorists just because they go to fight overseas, that is not a fair thing to say,” he says. “It’s also unreasonable to say just because they fought in Syria that they’re going to do the same thing when they come back home. There will always be one or two crazy fanatics among them, but they’re a minority. They’d have to be really misguided to try something here.”

Another community leader, Samier Dandan, president of the Lebanese Muslim Association, has accused the government of double standards by outlawing those who fight in Syria while allowing others, namely members of Australia’s Jewish community, to join the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

“It’s hard when you say something to one side, and they look and say ‘How come we’re not being treated the same?’ The law should be across everyone,” Dandan told the Australian Associated Press.

However, Rafael Epstein, author of Prisoner X, a book about an Australian lawyer who fought with the IDF and worked as an operative with Israel’s spy agency, Mossad, before going rogue, insists Dandan’s comparison is flawed.

“What he is saying is someone who fights for Israel will be just as radicalized and have just as many [warring] skills to pose a security risk to Australia,” Epstein says. “But the values under which someone would fight for Israel, a democratic country with the rule of law, are very different to the values someone would fight for under ISIS, and they’d be much closer to Australia’s values than ISIS’s.”

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott agrees. “The best thing we can do … is to ensure that jihadis do not come back to this country,” he said last month.

Whether that will be enough to maintain Australia’s record as one of the few major U.S. military partners in Afghanistan and Iraq to not have suffered a terrorist attack on its own soil remains open for discussion.

“U can’t stop me and trust me if I wanted to attack aus [sic] I could have easily,” tweeted convicted terrorist Khaled Sharrouf in a message taunting Australian federal police posted from the battleground in Syria. “I love to slaughter use [sic] and ALLAH LOVES when u dogs r slaughtered.”

TIME Malaysia Airlines Flight 17

Investigators Examine Shrapnel-Like Holes in MH17 Debris

A part of the fuselage of the downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 is pictured in a field near the village of Grabove, in the Donetsk region, on July 23, 2014.
A part of the fuselage of the downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 is pictured in a field near the village of Grabove, in the Donetsk region, on July 23, 2014. Bulent Kilic—AFP/Getty Images

Possible evidence of missile impact discovered, as well as more human remains, while crash site still remains inadequately secured

Investigators have found shrapnel-like holes in pieces of the fuselage belonging to the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 that crashed in eastern Ukraine last Thursday, allegedly after being struck by a missile.

Michael Bociurkiw, spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), described the punctures as “almost machine gun-like holes,” and said that Malaysian aviation-security officials had inspected the damage before leaving the site on Thursday.

A second plane carrying bodies from the ill-fated jetliner arrived Thursday in the Netherlands. With 194 of the 298 people on board being Dutch, the Netherlands was the country that lost the most citizens in the crash. Confusion remains over how many bodies have actually been recovered, though. Russian-backed separatists in control over the crash site claim to have handed over 282 bodies, plus more than 80 body parts. However, Dutch officials estimate that the figure handed over could be lower. Meanwhile, monitors in Ukraine keep finding human remains in the area.

There’s still concern that the 12 km-long area over which plane debris has been scattered hasn’t been adequately secured. Farmers are operating agricultural equipment in fields that could contain further evidence or even human remains. Serhiy Bochkovsky, the head of State Service of Emergencies Ukraine, said the separatists were preventing his team from doing their job.

“They took away our tents, the ones which were at our base camp,” Bochkovsky told a news conference. “We were allowed only our equipment and machinery and we were chased away at gunpoint.”

The Netherlands has officially taken charge of the investigation. “Now that … Ukraine has transferred legal responsibility to the Netherlands, we feel we’ll get more progress from the separatists,” Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in Kiev. With 38 passengers, Australians comprised the third-largest nationality on the flight after the Netherlands and Malaysia. Both the Netherlands and Australia are sending additional teams to help with the investigation in Ukraine.

TIME Australia

Whale Collisions Spark Calls for Ship Speed Limits in Australia

A humpback whale breaches the surface by propelling most of its body from the sea in Hervey  Bay
A humpback whale breaches the surface off the East Coast of Australia on Aug. 7, 2006 Russell Boyce—Reuters

Instances of gruesome whale collisions have prompted a conversation about whether to impose speed limits for ships along Australia's coast

Right now, some 20,000 humpback whales are enjoying the warm waters of Australia’s East Coast, where they migrate every year during Antarctica’s winter to feed, breed and calve. They are the product of a wildly successful conservation program launched in 1979 that brought the humpback from the brink of extinction following decades of industrial slaughter.

The species’ recovery has also given birth to a thriving whale-watching industry that generates some $300 million and attracts 1.6 million people per year. From the beaches of Sydney, where surfers rub shoulders with the 30-ton mammals, to Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, where a rare albino humpback called Migaloo was last seen, the whales are a symbol of Australia’s love for the ocean and how far it has come from the cruel, unsustainable ways of its past.

But the humpback’s stellar comeback has also led to increasingly frequent “whale strikes” — collisions with ships that cause gruesome propeller lacerations and even sever spines. It is part of a global phenomenon seen from such places as Sri Lanka, the Mediterranean and the U.S. Atlantic coast, where overlap between busy shipping lanes and whale habitats has left trails of mutilation.

In early May, a Norwegian cruise liner unknowingly dragged a dead sei whale, which had become caught on its bulbous bow, into the Hudson River. Three days later, another sei was found attached to a container ship docking near Philadelphia. In June, a humpback known as Max that had been visiting Alaska’s Glacier Bay for 39 years was found floating dead in the ocean with its jawbone nearly cut off. The discovery became the subject of a investigation by Alaskan wildlife officials to identify the ship that killed Max — a near impossible task given that most whale strikes by large ships go unreported or unnoticed. Cambridge-based International Whaling Commission, the world authority on the subject, has struggled to quantify the problem. It can’t provide any kind of accurate numbers but nevertheless holds that for some whale species and populations, strikes “may make the difference between extinction and survival.”

Whale strikes don’t currently pose a tangible risk to humpback populations in Australia. But a controversial government decision to expand a series of coal ports along the coast of the Great Barrier Reef — the humpback’s most important East Coast calving ground — is projected to massively increase sea traffic over the reef. And that will spell carnage for humpbacks, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), which is calling for the introduction of 10-knot speed limits for large ships in two key humpback habitats near two of the largest ports.

“From our organization’s point of view, the killing of even one whale is an issue,” says IFAW campaign manager Sharon Livermore.“But from the evidence we do have of whales that have been found dead or stranded, we know the number of reported strikes represents a small number of the actual number being injured or killed.”

“Calls for speed limits are very much warranted,” adds Joshua Smith of the Murdoch University Cetacean Research Unit. “We know humpbacks are already in conflict with shipping, and if you do the maths with these new megaports, you can see the problem is going to get much worse. A national whale-strike strategy is a sound precautionary principle.”

IFAW points to a similar initiative off the coast of the Georgia-Florida border, where 10-knot speed limits on large ships were introduced in 2008 to prevent collisions with critically endangered North Atlantic right whales. Thirteen rights were killed as a result of strikes in the 18-month period before the speed limit went into effect, compared to zero fatalities reported in the six years that have passed since. And in New Zealand’s Hauraki Gulf, the Port of Auckland has introduced voluntary speed restrictions to protect critically endangered Bryde’s whales after scientists estimated a 10-knot speed limit would reduce strike fatalities by 75%.

But Sheila Peake, a lecturer in ecotourism and environmental science at the University of the Sunshine Coast, says not enough is known about the humpback’s migratory routes in Australia to make speed restrictions effective.

“You can’t just say if we introduce speed limits for ships in one or two areas we will reduce whale strikes,” Peake says. “Not enough is known about the areas whales pass through to get there from Antarctica. And if you lay speed limits across the whole East Coast, it will have quite an impact on other industries and recreational fishing.”

Simon Meyjes, CEO of Australian Reef Pilot, a company that’s been guiding large ships through the Great Barrier Reef for more than a century, says 10-knot speed limits in front of coal ports will have next to no impact on reducing whale strikes because coal carriers steam at maximum speeds of 10 to 12 knots.

“I would say these slow ships account for two-thirds of the traffic on the Great Barrier Reef. The other third are faster container ships, livestock carriers and passenger ships that steam at 17 to 19 knots. They can’t be operated for long periods of time at 10 knots as the speed falls within those ship’s critical vibration range. It would risk major damage to their equipment and make it difficult to keep our supermarket shelves stocked.”

Meyjes also questions IFAW estimates that the number of ships passing through the Great Barrier Reef will almost double by 2020. “Shipping increases only as fast as the overall economy grows, so all these stories about huge increases are simply misguided,” he says. “In the last 10 years, traffic on the reef has increased an average of 3.5% a year.”

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority tells TIME it is liaising with IFAW and the shipping industry on the viability of speed limits, but that “given shipping is an internationally regulated industry … measures need to be linked to the strategic direction of the International Maritime Organization and supported by strong documentation.” In other words: Australia is unlikely to introduce speed limits until the movement to prevent whale strikes gains global traction.

In the sun-kissed Whitsunday archipelago 1,000 km north of Brisbane, Bill Hutchinson weaves and bobs his high-speed catamaran through waters literally heaving with humpbacks, carefully abiding to a local law that requires him to remain at least 300 m away from whales. In 44 years on the job, he’s never hit one.

“How do you avoid them? You can’t,” he says. “When the mothers are feeding their calves on the surface, they’re really docile. So we keep as far away as possible. But if it gets cloudy or the water gets choppy, visibility suffers. You can’t be watching out for whales all the time.”

TIME Television

Man’s 41 Homer Simpson Tattoos Set World Record

Lee Weir's Homer sleeve Guinness World Records

"Woo hoo!" as Homer would say

Some people get drunk before they get a tattoo, but Lee Weir, a 27-year-old from New Zealand, gave up alcohol for a year while getting 41 tattoos of Homer Simpson in a sleeve on his arm—setting a Guinness World Record for the most tattoos of the same cartoon character on a single body.

The tattoo might also break a record for how many different versions of the same cartoon character it contains. Weir has Homer as a jack-in-the-box, the Grim Reaper, and a donut. There’s Homer as a baby, as an old man, and in a Hawaiian shirt.

Why Homer? Weir wasn’t allowed to watch the cartoon as a kid, but he “got into it at a later age” he told Australia’s Sunrise morning show. He considered getting tattoos of all the different Simpsons characters, but the process was too difficult. How do you choose who to include and who to leave out? Homer makes for “a great conversation starter,” he said.

TIME Australia

Malaysia Airlines Ukraine Crash: Australia Mulls G-20 Putin Ban

Tony Abbott
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, right, attends a service for victims of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 at St. Mary's Cathedral in Sydney on July 20, 2014. Peter Parks—AFP/Getty Images

But it's unclear if Australia can unilaterally bar the Russian leader

The giant Létourneau pipe organ at Sydney’s St. Mary’s Cathedral sounded particularly somber Sunday morning as Prime Minister Tony Abbott and other Australian dignitaries joined hundreds of mourners at a service to commemorate victims of the ill-fated Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was most likely hit by a missile before crashing in eastern Ukraine on Thursday.

“Sister Philomene Tiernan was one of our teachers and she was killed in the crash. It has really hit our school hard,” said Kasey Brassel. Brassel was one of dozens of students from an exclusive all-girls Catholic school, Kincoppal Rose Bay, who had come to commemorate the Australian nun listed among the 298 passengers lost in the disaster. Choking back her tears, she added, “[But] we came to remember all the victims, each one of them individually.”

However, Bishop Peter Comensoli, who led St. Mary’s Sunday morning sermon, was less restrained. “The downing of MH17 was not an innocent accident. It was the outcome of a trail of human evil,” he told the packed cathedral.

Comensoli’s sentiments mirror Australia’s stern diplomatic rebuke of Russia as the country’s national death toll rose from 28 to 36 after it was revealed eight additional passengers aboard MH17 were permanent residents of Australia. “Russian-controlled territory, Russian-backed rebels, quite likely a Russian-supplied weapon. Russia can’t wash its hands of this,” Prime Minister Abbott told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation during a televised interview this weekend.

Adding fuel to the fire are reports that bodies, valuables and wreckage from the crash site are being carted off by Russian-backed Ukrainian separatists. Those separatists are also reportedly blocking inspectors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe from accessing the site, though reports Sunday indicate the rebels have recovered the Boeing 777’s black boxes and will turn them over to European aviation officials.

“No one is really in charge,” Abbott said, referring to the Ukrainian crash site. “It’s absolutely chaotic.”

Abbott has dispatched his Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, to U.N. headquarters in New York to seek a binding Security Council resolution that would ensure Russia facilitates an independent investigation into the downing of MH17. But with Moscow holding veto power over the council and pointing the finger at Ukraine, Bishop will have her work cut out for her.

“Australia has a seat on the Security Council at this time, so it is a good opportunity for Australia to communicate its unhappiness on this matter,” says Dr. Nick Economou of Monash University’s School of Political and Social Inquiry. “But the diplomacy will be quite difficult.”

It’s still unknown if Russia supplied the sophisticated Buk missile believed to have downed MH17, or if the rebels who allegedly shot it secured the weapon from a Ukrainian military depot. Nevertheless, Australian enmity for Russia is heating up, with widespread calls to ban Russian President Vladimir Putin from attending November’s G-20 summit in Brisbane. Australian Greens leader Christine Milne outright supports blocking Putin, Opposition leader Bill Shorten says a Putin ban should be considered, while Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss says it will be “difficult” to welcome Putin to Australia. Abbott stopped short of adding his voice to the chorus, but says Australia must ensure visitors “have goodwill to this country.”

However, Mike Callaghan, director of the G20 Studies Centre at Sydney’s Lowy Institute for International Policy, questions Australia’s right to ban Putin from attending.

“The G-20 is an informal economic forum. There are no rules on membership or revoking membership. So any decision has to be made on consensus, and it is questionable if it is up to (the) chair to say who can and can’t come. It would be very different to Russia’s expulsion from the G-8, when all seven other member nations acted together.”

Callaghan adds that a ban on Putin at the G-20 could spark a no-show from other BRICS, a loose association of five major emerging economies – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — which expressed serious concern in March when Australia’s Foreign Minister Bishop suggested Putin’s barring from the G-8 could be extended to the G-20.

“The G-20 is meant to be an event that brings together the largest developing economies in the world with the largest emerging economies,” Callaghan explains. “So if BRICS don’t come, what is the point of the G-20?”

Monash University’s Economou concurs, saying banning Putin from the G-20 or simply refusing him an entry visa into Australia would prove counterproductive for the G-20, as well as the investigation into the downing of MH17 and for broader global cohesion.

“Our anger with Russia must be communicated,” he says. “But with such a big and powerful player like Russia, you’re better off having them inside the process than outside it. And that will be the big dilemma for Australia further down the track.”

TIME Australia

After MH17 Ukraine Crash, Global AIDS Researchers Mourn Lost Colleagues

The cause of HIV/AIDS research will be set back because of experts lost in the Malaysia Airlines Ukraine disaster

+ READ ARTICLE

[UPDATE: 7/18/14, 11:52 AM EDT]

There was a pall over the 20th annual International AIDS Conference in Melbourne even before the crash of Flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine, which killed an estimated 100 delegates who were en route to the meeting. [Update: Later reports suggest that the number of delegates lost is much lower.]

In the past couple of years the vibrant showcase event—part serious science, part activist networking and carnivalhas been headily optimistic, as HIV treatments improved and the possibility of a cure no longer seemed so far off. “The mood is always an important part,” says Professor Mike Toole, an international communicable diseases veteran with Melbourne’s Burnet Institute who has been at the HIV/AIDS front line since the pandemic began some 30 years ago.

Toole remembers that the landmark Durban International AIDS Conference back in 2000 demonstrated to this eclectic crowd—a disparate crew of laboratory researchers, front-line health workers, activists and people living with the infection—their powerful potential. It was in Durban that the commitment to deliver then-prohibitively expensive antiretroviral drugs to the world’s poorest populations ignited, and was carried through over the next few years by organizations like The Global Fund and the U.S. President’s Emergency Fund for Aids Relief.

The past two International Aids Society (IAS) meetings, in Vienna and Washington DC, have been buoyed by signals that a breakthrough was close, and the expectation was that the momentum would continue into Melbourne. Then, barely a week ago, came a serious blow. For over a year many members of the HIV/AIDS community had been pinning their hopes for a breakthrough on the so-called Mississippi baby, an HIV-positive infant that had apparently been cured through aggressive drug treatment soon after birth. But on July 10, news came, that the child was showing symptoms that the virus had returned.

Although there are other programs that indicate that it might be possible to eliminate HIV infection from a human body, the apparent relapse of the Mississippi baby “depressed people incredibly,” says Toole.

Then came yesterday’s tragedy. For Toole and others HIV/AIDS experts the crash summoned up ghosts. “It reminds me of the Swissair flight, New York to Geneva, when Jonathan Mann died,” he says. Mann then the founding director of the World Health Organization’s global AIDS program was killed with several other researchers, including his wife Mary-Lou Clements-Mann, en route to AIDS meetings when the plane crashed in Canada, September 3, 1998. “I lost five friends on that flight.”

In Sydney, at a pre-conference gathering on July 18, about 200 delegates spent the day closely monitoring Twitter and exchanging snippets of news, desperate for updates on who would and would not be joining them in Melbourne. The word there was that a substantial number of the 100-plus delegates reported to be on the downed aircraft were part of the global network of activists and people living with AIDS.

With only a handful of names of the deceased confirmed by Friday, it’s difficult to measure the overall impact on HIV/AIDS research and advocacy. But the loss of internationally renowned Dutch researcher Joep Lange—a former president of the IAS—would be a massive blow. “It will have a big psychological effect,” says Toole. “He was one of the leaders in the field.”

Another known casualty was Glenn Thomas, a British media officer working for WHO in Geneva. Thomas was to be part of a media launch on July 20 revealing new tools to reduce harm to users of intravenous drugs. He was also recognized as a particularly effective communicator on the links between HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, says Toole. (The risk of developing TB is up to 20 times greater in people infected with HIV, and in 2012, of the 8.6 million new cases of TB diagnosed internationally, 1.1 million were among people with HIV.)“And the other hundred [on board]—we don’t know who they are, what it means.”

The annual AIS conferences are like no other medical gathering, says Professor Rob Moodie of the University of Melbourne, a former senior WHO official and longtime Australian public health specialist. “You have this incredible mixture of scientists and clinicians, public health people, civilian organizers, human rights activists, people who have the virus … who all have some sort of sense of ownership and collective leadership.”

The energy and collaborations of these gatherings have helped drive the huge advances achieved in understanding and responses to HIV/AIDS in a relatively short time. “We learned more about HIV in the first 10 years than we did in a century with other diseases,” says Moodie. The involvement of grassroots activist groups—as well as lab researchers—has been key to that success. MH17’s toll would not only be measured in the loss of medical expertise, but of advocacy, understanding and hard-won personal experience.

“There is a black cloud on this conference,” says Toole. “I don’t think there is anything that can retrieve that.”

Still, Toole was confident that delegates would be driven to achieve as much as they could in memory of their colleagues. He welcomed the move by the City of Melbourne on July 18 to cancel fireworks that had been scheduled to kick off the conference, but was disappointed that that’s night fixture in the Australian Football League competition—to which AIDS2014 delegates had been given tickets as part of the cultural program—did not pause for a minute of silence.

TIME Australia

Australia Grieves After 28 Nationals Die in MH17 Crash

Malaysia Airlines plane crashes in eastern Ukraine
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott speaks about the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in Ukraine during a press conference in Canberra, Australia on July 18, 2014. Alan Porritt — EPA

Canberra summons Russian ambassador Vladimir Morozov for an explanation

Grief and shock rippled through Australia after news broke early Friday morning that 28 of its citizens had been aboard the ill-fated Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was allegedly shot down by a surface-to-air missile in southeastern Ukraine on Thursday.

Flags flew at half-mast in Canberra as Prime Minister Tony Abbott addressed the nation’s parliament on Friday morning. “The reckless indifference to modern life does not have any place in our world,” he said.

The Russian ambassador to Australia, Vladimir Morozov, was summoned following myriad reports that the plane was downed by weaponry fired by pro-Russian separatists in southeastern Ukraine. Kiev has long claimed the rebels are being supported by Moscow.

“I asked him for Russia’s explanation as to how a commercial plane could come down from that altitude over eastern Ukraine,” said Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

“[Morozov] assured me Russia would do what it could to find those responsible.”

The death of 28 of the nation’s citizens is the largest loss of Australian lives during a terrorist incident — if that is indeed what it is — since the Bali bombings in 2002. Out of the 298 people killed on Thursday, approximately 100 people were also en route to Australia to attend the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne.

Security analysts say the incident will likely have immediate repercussions within the country’s security circles.

“Australia cannot afford to ignore the problems of the world, because they come back and affect us in the most horrible of ways as we’ve seen today,” said Rory Medcalf, security program director at Australian think tank the Lowy Institute.

“This reminds us that what’s happening in Ukraine has now become everybody’s business. It’s affected our security in the most awful, direct way.”

Out of the country’s population of 23 million, approximately 1 million are abroad at any given time — making Australia an unusually integrated country in global affairs despite its geographic isolation, explains Medcalf.

One such person was Perth management consultant Nick Norris, who was travelling on MH 17 along with his grandchildren, Mo, 12, Evie, 10, and Otis, 8. One acquaintance remembered Norris as an integral member in his community.

“Nick has been an important part of the club and an active member — as were his grandchildren,” David Harries, the South of Perth Yacht Club general manager, tells TIME.

The club issued a statement praising Norris as a “well loved and respected” member of the club. It said that members were “shocked by this tragic, senseless loss of family members and club members. It will have a lasting impact on the club and members.”

Others among the 28 who perished on Thursday included a nun from Sydney and a couple coming home after touring Europe.

Blowback to the tragedy was immediate as people began canceling reservations with Malaysia Airlines, which is suffering from the loss of its second plane in over four months after its Flight 370 inexplicably vanished over the Indian Ocean in early March.

“We have had several cancellations of clients booked to fly on Malaysian Airlines,” said Penny Spencer, managing director of popular agency Spencer Travel. “But because this has happened twice now it is going to make things a whole lot more difficult for Malaysia Airlines to get over this.”

TIME Australia

Top AIDS Researchers Killed in Malaysia Airlines Crash

The huge loss may stall HIV/AIDS research

+ READ ARTICLE

About 100 people traveling to a global AIDS conference in Australia were on board the Malaysia Airlines flight that crashed and killed 298 people in eastern Ukraine, reports the Sydney Morning Herald.

The researchers, health workers and activists were on their way to the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne. Among the victims planning to attend was Dutch national Joep Lange, a top AIDS researcher and former International AIDS Society president. Briton Glenn Thomas, a spokesperson for the World Health Organization and a former BBC journalist, was also on flight MH17.

The International AIDS Society expressed sadness over the news that its colleagues were on the Malaysian jetliner.

“At this incredibly sad and sensitive time the IAS stands with our international family and sends condolences to the loved ones of those who have been lost to this tragedy,” the group said in a statement.

Friends and colleagues of those within the AIDS-research community, including UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibé, also expressed shock and grief over the tragic deaths on Twitter.

While the medical field mourns the lives of those killed, experts like Associate Professor Brian Owler, federal president of the Australian Medical Association, also fear that breakthroughs in HIV/AIDS research will now be stalled.

“The amount of knowledge that these people who died on the plane were carrying with them and the experiences they had developed will have a devastating impact on HIV research,” Owler told TIME.

“The amount of time it takes to get to a stage where you can come up with those ideas cannot be replaced in a short amount of time. So it does set back work for a cure and strategic prevention of HIV/AIDS very significantly,” he said.

With reporting by Ian Neubauer / Sydney

TIME swimming

Australian Swimmer Ian Thorpe Comes Out as Gay

FILE - Olympic Swimmer Ian Thorpe Reveals He Is Gay On An Interview With Michael Parkinson On Australian Television
Olympic Swimmer Ian Thorpe Quinn Rooney—Getty Images

"I'm comfortable saying I'm a gay man," he revealed after years of denials

Australian swimmer and five-time Olympic gold medalist Ian Thorpe announced he was gay this weekend after years of denials, in a tell-interview that aired in Australia Sunday night.

“I’m comfortable saying I’m a gay man,” he told British interviewer Michael Parkinson on Australia’s Channel Ten, the ABC reports. “And I don’t want young people to feel the same way that I did. You can grow up, you can be comfortable and you can be gay.”

Thorpe, whose swimming success earned him the nickname “the Thorpedo,” had earlier denied being gay in his 2012 autobiography. “For the record, I am not gay and all my sexual experiences have been straight,” he wrote.

Thorpe now says he had wanted to come out for a long time but “didn’t have the strength,” and was concerned about reactions from friends and family, who were surprised by his news but have been very supportive.

“I’m not straight, and this is only something that very recently — we’re talking in the past two weeks — I’ve been comfortable telling the closest people around me exactly that,” Thorpe said.

Thorpe said keeping his sexuality a secret contributed to the depression he battled, sometimes by abusing alcohol, since he was a teenager. He said he decided to come out because “the lie had become so big” and he “didn’t want people to question my integrity.”

“A part of me didn’t know if Australia wanted its champion to be gay,” Thorpe said, The Guardian reports. “I am telling not only Australia, I’m telling the world that I am and I hope this makes it easier for others now.”

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser