Wednesday 17 January 2018

Doctors were flying home for reunion at friend's wedding

John Whelan

A second Air France plane out of Rio de Janeiro had a lucky escape when it "dropped like a stone" in virtually the same spot as the ill- fated Flight 447 disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean only hours earlier. Bizarrely, passengers on that flight from Rio to London included colleagues and close friends of the three young Irish doctors Aisling Butler, Eithne Walls and Jane Deasy who are among 228 people missing in the airline tragedy.

The three talented young doctors were part of a larger group of 15 friends who were planning to reunite in Dublin last Thursday. Most of the group who had formed a bond since starting their studies as medical students in Trinity College in 2001 were converging for the wedding celebrations of one of their fellow doctors in Clontarf Castle on Thursday.

The wedding ceremony proceeded against a sombre background, the young medical fraternity stunned by the events which had taken the lives of their friends.

"This group of about 15 have been inseparable since their first day at college. They were just fantastic friends, a great bunch. They were all planning to get back for the wedding on Thursday in Dublin and catch up. Obviously, with all the preparations and everything made the wedding had to go ahead," explained one family member as the doctors themselves preferred to close ranks out of respect for the suffering and torment of their friends' families.

"Obviously, the families of those beautiful girls are taking it bad, are very upset and are trying to get through it, so they are all going to the various services and calling around to support the parents at this difficult time and have been asked not to comment too much to the media."

There has also been speculation that one of the doctors was supposed to board the fatal flight but was turned away because his documents were not in order as they had been stolen earlier.

This young man's father revealed that this version of events is not fully accurate.

"It is true that they were mugged two nights before and everything was stolen at machete and knife point, their watches, money and wallets but not their passports. They were never due to board that particular plane but a later flight than the girls and the plan was they would all hook up again at the wedding in Dublin. They knew nothing of the disaster as the news had not broken and any reports coming in were sketchy. Not in their wildest dreams did they think their pals were in trouble and they all had been together in Brazil just days earlier," he said.

The father of one of the doctors, who are now visiting their friends' parents and anxiously awaiting some news of what actually happened to Flight 447, said: "The strange thing is that as they headed out over the Atlantic on the same flight path their plane went down rapidly, it seems in around the same spot the other plane disappeared. There was consternation on board, people screaming and going hysterical, the whole lot. They said that 400 or 500 miles off the coast the plane hit turbulence and just dropped like a stone. All this time they didn't realise that their pals were on the plane that went down. When they landed in Heathrow they were immediately taken aside by Air France staff and were told what had happened. They were just freaked out by all this, totally devastated. They had all been so close for seven years through college and their internship in St James's and Tallaght and a few other hospitals around the country."

Another concern for the young Irish medics is the wellbeing of three other women from their group currently believed to be in Bolivia.

"Three of the girls who were among the closest companions of Aisling, Jane and Eithne are understood to be hiking in Bolivia, oblivious to the tragedy that has unfolded. Their friends are now anxious that they don't find out what has happened the wrong way and are worried about the shock they will get, so they are taking down Facebook messages and trying to monitor the situation until they can contact the other girls themselves," explained the family member.

Once this tightly knit group of young medical students in their mid-20s had graduated from Trinity and completed their internships many of them were lucky to get deferrals on their job offers and set off on a year travelling. The contingent first went to Brisbane, on to New Zealand and later South America. Their plan all along was for a reunion of the class of 2007 at Thursday's wedding, as the bride was one of their number. But with their lives ahead of them and about to embark on their careers, fate was to intervene and devastate their dreams with the terrible tragedy and mystery ofAir France Flight 447.

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