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Air France crash leaves global trail of victims

Families pay tribute to the victims of Air France  Flight 447 that disappeared over the Atlantic, en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris.
Journalists look at a photo of Lucas Gagriani Juca, 24, a Brazilian passenger on the missing Air France jet, in front of a hotel in Rio de Janeiro, where the airline assisted families on Tuesday.Silvia Izquierdo / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Three young Irish doctors — one a Riverdance performer — returning from a vacation to Brazil. An American geologist and his wife headed to Europe for work and some R&R. An 11-year-old boy traveling alone on his way back to an English boarding school.

All were among the victims of Air France Flight 447, leaving broken hearts from Rio to Paris and far beyond.

“We will miss your dancing feet,” read a tribute from the Northern Ireland family of Eithne Walls, 29, the dancer-turned-doctor. “We will miss your silliness, your wit and your hugs. We will always hold you in our hearts and you are never truly gone.”

John Butler initially thought his 26-year-old daughter, Aisling Butler, was booked on a different flight and had to retrieve her itinerary from his deleted e-mail folder to check.

“When I opened it up, a nightmare opened up as well,” he said, speaking from the family’s home in rural County Tipperary.

Graduated from medical school
Walls, Butler and their best friend from Ireland’s Trinity College, 28-year-old Jane Deasy — the daughter of a Dublin surgeon — graduated together from medical school in 2007 and had spent two weeks in Brazil as part of a larger group of Trinity grads.

While others traveled on to Australia, the trio headed home to resume their busy medical careers.

“Her friends will, we hope, remember their special time together with fondness and joy, despite its tragic end,” read the tribute to Walls, who spent nearly a decade dancing in Riverdance troupes from New York to Shanghai and was pursuing a career as a Dublin eye surgeon.

Some families recalled how their loved ones had survived dangerous jobs or medical crises, only to perish in Monday’s unexplained crash over the Atlantic Ocean, which was presumed to have killed all 228 on board.

Christine Pieraerts, a 28-year-old Michelin tire engineer from France had recovered from a stroke and was returning home after a 10-day visit to see her boyfriend in Brazil.

“We were very happy because she was starting to take up her activities and a normal life again. Fate caught up with her and us,” said her older brother Michel.

Commuted monthly from Brazil
Graham Gardner, a 52-year-old seaman from Scotland, had braved gale-force winds and other dangers aboard tankers, ferries and container ships before taking charge of an oil pipe-laying vessel, the Lochnagar.

He commuted monthly from Brazil back home to his wife, Joyce, who described him as “such a loving, caring and laid-back man. Nothing fazed him.”

Brazil-born orthodontist Jose Souza, had honed his skills as a surfer since the age of 9, traveling worldwide to take on the most challenging waves.

Souza “would regularly chase waves all over Europe and the world at a moment’s notice,” recalled Ben Farwagi, president of the London Surf Club Big Wave Team, which counted Souza as a member.

Some on plane after winning trip
In a statement still posted on the club’s Web site Tuesday, Souza spoke of his love of the sea. “I have ridden big waves all around the world, but particularly like Sunset Beach (Hawaii), J-Bay (South Africa) and Mundaka (Spain). I now just want to go bigger!!!”

The two Americans on board the plane, geologist Michael Harris and his wife Anne, had moved to Rio from Houston 10 months ago, and were on their way to Europe for work and vacation, said a spokesman for his employer, Oklahoma City-based Devon Energy Corp.

Harris, who turned 60 last month, had planned to attend seminars in Barcelona, Spain, then enjoy “five days on R&R in Paris,” said spokesman Chip Minty.

“They were both gregarious, caring, patient, kind, fun-loving individuals,” Anne Harris’ sister, Mary Miley, told the Lafayette, La., newspaper The Advertiser. “My only comfort is that they died together.”

Among the 61 victims from France were 10 salesmen and their spouses from a French electronics supply company, CGE Distribution, who won a company prize of a free trip to Brazil.

They “had a great year that wrapped up with this dream trip,” said a CGE manager, Jean-Pierre Nardou.

Salesman Stephane Artiguenave, 35, and his wife Sandrine, 34, left behind a 9-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son in their Bordeaux village of Saint-Martin-de-Sescas.

Complaints about Air France
The man’s brother-in-law, Christophe Champenaud, complained that Air France officials had provided no help. “Not even to figure out how to tell the children about their parents’ deaths,” he said.

Eleven-year-old Alexander Bjoroy was returning to his English boarding school, Clifton College in Bristol, after spending a school break with his family in Brazil.

“Our deepest sympathies and condolences are with the family in Brazil at this time,” said the school headmaster, John Milne.

Among the 58 Brazilian victims was Pedro Luis de Orleans e Braganca, a 26-year-old descendent of Brazil’s last emperor, Dom Pedro II.

Patricia Coakley’s husband Arthur, a 61-year-old English oil-rig engineer, shouldn’t have been on the ill-fated flight at all. He was supposed to have taken a weekend flight out of Rio, but was bumped because it was overbooked.

She tried phoning her husband’s cell phone Monday, but gave up on Tuesday.

“He worked so hard for his family. That’s all he wanted, to retire. It’s not going to happen, is it?” she asked tearfully.