At least 52 Americans, including a 27-year-old specialist in Chinese law from Bethesda, were among the 269 persons who died aboard the Korean Air Lines flight to Seoul that U.S. officials say was shot down by a Soviet jet fighter this week.

After a day of conflicting accounts about passenger lists, Korean Air Lines spokesman J.H. Kim in Los Angeles said the airline had confirmed yesterday that the American victims included 30 females, 20 males and two infants--a figure nearly twice as high as previous estimates.

The airline's office in Seoul still is trying to determine whether other victims with Korean or Chinese surnames also might be American citizens, Kim said. The Associated Press identified 17 additional persons with such surnames as having home addresses in the United States, but their citizenship remained unknown.

Also on the flight, Kim said, were 78 Koreans, 35 Chinese, 27 Japanese, 16 Filipinos, 10 Canadians, six Thais, four Australians and one each from Sweden, India and Malaysia, along with nine persons who have not yet been identified. The plane also carried 29 Korean crew members, he said.

As shocked friends and relatives absorbed the tragic news, more details emerged about the circumstances and coincidences that put their loved ones aboard Flight 007.

John Oldham, a recent graduate of Columbia Law School who grew up on Falmouth Rd. in Bethesda, down the street from where Secretary of State George P. Shultz now lives, was headed for Peking for a year of studying Chinese language and law at Beijing University.

"I talked to him Tuesday, just before he left," Elisabeth Choi, Oldham's girlfriend, said yesterday. "He said he was really excited . . . , and a litle worried because it Peking was so far away. It was a mixture of being excited and being a little bit scared."

Oldham originally had planned to take the Monday night flight on Korean Air Lines, but delayed his departure one day to help visiting Chinese scholars at Columbia find housing on Manhattan's crowded upper West side.

Friends and colleagues say the gesture was characteristic.

"He did find them housing, too, when others were unable to," a law school staff member said.

"That was just like him. John was always available, he always went out of his way to help people," Oldham's Columbia Law professor, R. Randle Edwards, said.

"He was the very definition of outgoing--very warm, gregarious, sunny. He always had a smile for everyone."

"Just as soon as we received confirmation . . . we just all thought, it couldn't end this way, for someone who was so vibrant, and thought friendship was the best way," he said.

"He was really committed to international affairs and helping people," Choi said. "He wasn't sure how it was all going to add up, but that was his goal. He put his whole heart and soul into that."

Oldham attended Andover Academy and Princeton University on scholarship, working in pubs and doing custodial work on the side.

He went on to win a Fulbright scholarship for a year's study in Geneva, and had accepted a job for next year at the Washington law firm of Surrey and Morse to specialize in international relations.

"He . . . did not intend to be a dust-covered scholar in the stacks. He wanted to work with people," Edwards said.

Another area resident on the flight was Gyung Geun Ryu, 27, who came to Georgetown University from his native Seoul last fall to study organic chemistry.

The Greenbelt resident, who kept a low profile at the university, was headed back home to take care of family business, professors said.

"He was a quiet fellow." said chemistry professor Richard D. Bates Jr. "This is very sad. We are all upset. I just hope the people responsible feel some contrition."

David E. Powrie of Falls Church said his son, Ian, 24, a British civil engineer who had been living in East Orange, N.J., was on his way to Seoul on business.

"An oustanding, capable, intelligent, considerate young man," Powrie said. "Our only son. Our only child."

Six women from the Detroit area had left for a vacation tour of Korea and Japan arranged by Margaret Zarif, 59, the author of two children's book on Martin Luther King Jr. and local black leaders.

Zarif, a retired teacher who had taught kindergarten in several cities, ran a small travel agency out of her home and arranged for the other women to meet one Sunday before the trip, said Bobbie Brooks, a close friend.

Brooks said Zarif, a member of the Detroit Fire Commission and a trustee of the city's Afro-American Museum, "was fantastic, a real entrepreneur. The hardest thing I had to do was break it to her son," Michael, 29.

"My best friend was shot down, and I can't even do anything about it," Brooks said. "So Reagan came off his vacation--now what? They're going to have a little rhetoric, lower the flags and keep right on stepping. The world should take stronger action. Maybe we should stop selling wheat to the Russians."

The others in Zarif's group were hairdresser Marie Culp, 75, dry cleaner Hazel James, hospital worker Frances Swift, 40, former judge Jessie Slaton, 75, and General Motors machinist Joyce Chambers, 34.

Chambers lived with her mother, Dorothy Jones, who said she had accompanied her daughter on previous vacations in Europe, but decided to pass this one up.

"She wanted me to go on this trip, but I have a sick sister-in-law down in Ohio and I didn't want to get so far," Jones said. "It's going to be very painful for me now. To me, she was a precious jewel."

Philadelphia stockbroker Allan Kohn, 63, and his wife, Lillian, 54, a free-lance writer, had decided on a vacation in Japan and made the reservations only two weeks ago.

"It was a last-minute thing," said their son, Joseph, 27. "There were two seats left on the flight."

Susan Lee Campbell, 28, a veterinarian from Worcester, Mass., was returning to Taiwan for a final year of study at Tung Hai University before taking a job in Massachusetts, said her mother, Joann Campbell Dunn.

"She wasn't even going to go to Korea," Dunn said, but took a connecting flight because "it was quicker and cheaper. Everyone here is devastated by this. It's a great waste of human potential."

The passengers' reasons for taking the flight were as diverse as their nationalities. Diane Ariyadej, 30, was returning with her 8-month-old son, Sammy, to join her husband, a Thai businessman. Edgardo Cruz, 59, and his wife, Frisca, 60, of Irvington, N.J., were returning to the Philippines for the funeral of Cruz' father.

James Burgess, 55, a textiles salesman from Greenville, S.C., was going to Korea with his friend and business partner, Bill Hong, 41, said Maryann Montgomery, a family friend.

Hong, a Korean-American, had won an airline ticket in a Korean-sponsored golf tournament, she said.

"He was also the most loving, compassionate, friendly person I know," Montgomery said of Burgess, an avid golfer and water-skiier. "Kind of shy, but always had a joke and a smile." He is survived by his wife, Mickie, a son and two daughters.

Ming-Tsan Weng, 41, an American citizen and Taiwanese native who was an engineer with General Electric in Cincinnati, was invited by the Taiwanese government to take a teaching position, said his widow, Terry Weng.

"He was going for a temporary stay," she said, but was considering moving her and their two sons to Taiwan later.