Afghan Plane Crash Tragedy Felt in America

A Boeing 737 aircraft crashed near Kabul, Afghanistan, earlier this week, apparently killing all 104 passengers on board. The plane left from from the western city of Herat, a busy route for Afghan businessmen and foreign aid workers returning to Kabul.

Six Americans were believed to be on the flight. Three of the Americans were foreign aid workers -- 26-year-old Cristi Gadue; Carmen Urdaneta, 32; and Amy Niebling, 29 -- who worked for the Boston-based aid agency Management Sciences for Health.

Friends and family described the women as compassionate and idealistic in their work helping to build a public health system for the people of Afghanistan. It was work they dearly loved, despite the danger and the distance it took them from their homes and families.

A Loyal Friend

Gadue's mother, Nancy Murphy, said her daughter thrived on her friendships with others. "She was an incredibly loyal friend," Murphy said. "And [Cristi] would do anything for her friends and her family. She was a giver of love."

A proud Vermont native, Gadue graduated from Tufts University in Boston and began work with MSH in 2000. She lived in Kabul for the past year, where she made friends as easily with Afghans as Americans. Her commitment to the country inspired other aid workers.

A Master Storyteller

Urdaneta was also dedicated to making life better for others.

"She so hoped that she could make a change and she did make a change," said Carmen's mother, Lia Urdaneta. "She was happy and that's what we have to think about ... that she died doing something that made her happy."

It was the life stories she heard that drove Urdaneta out into the field again and again. She came back from her travels with vivid accounts and photographs of the people she met to share with those who could help.

"I thought she had that gift of instilling hope in the hearts of people. What she was photographing was hope all around her," said Leonel Urdaneta, Carmen's father.

Realizing a Dream in Life

Amy Niebling was married last October, but that didn't stop her from going on her first field assignment.

Niebling met her husband, Andrew Meeks, when she was getting her master's degree in international and intercultural communications from Denver University.

While abroad, she sent her family dozens of e-mails and pictures -- faces of Afghans, mostly of children -- who seemed to open their hearts to her.

Despite their travels to some of the world's most terrifying, strife-ridden areas, it was ultimately a plane crash in bad weather that claimed the lives of the three women.