Dutch prosecutors said Thursday that one passenger on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was found wearing an oxygen mask, but around his neck, not on the mouth as the Dutch foreign minister claimed in a TV interview. This could definitely mean that some of those on board flight MH17 might have been conscious after the missile struck.
The passenger, an Australian, did not have the mask on his face but its elastic strap was around his neck, said Wim de Bruin, a spokesman for the Dutch National Prosecutor’s Office, which is carrying out a criminal investigation into the disaster.
The Australian passenger’s relatives were told about the mask as soon as it was discovered but other victims’ relatives only heard about it for the first time Wednesday when Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans mentioned it the TV show.
Veeru Mewa, a lawyer for some of the families’ victims said: “It’s frustrating. People are looking for pieces of the puzzle, every bit of information is weighed up. They’re in the middle of grieving, which is already perturbed by the slow, difficult identification process and the fact that research in Ukraine isn’t possible. This sort of information leads to confusion.”
After those relatives began calling, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement Thursday saying Timmermans regretted his comments. ‘‘I have an enormous amount of sympathy for the next-of-kin,’’ he said. ‘‘The last thing I want to do is compound their suffering.’’
This is not the first time he’s raised the possibility that passengers may have been conscious.
De Bruin said Dutch forensic experts investigated the mask “for fingerprints, saliva and DNA and that did not produce any results. So it is not known how or when that mask got around the neck of the victim.” De Bruin said no other bodies from the wreckage were found wearing masks. He said he did not know where the Australian victim had been sitting in the plane.
All 298 passengers and crew died when the MH17 jet flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur ended up in pieces July 17. Dutch air crash investigators said multiple “high-energy objects” which some aviation experts say are consistent with a missile strike, are likely to had struck it.