A passenger killed on Malaysia Airlines (MAS) Flight 17 was wearing an oxygen mask, raising the possibility that not all people on board immediately died before the plane hit the ground in eastern Ukraine in July.
The mask was wrapped with an elastic band around the neck of the victim, who was Australian, Dutch prosecutors said in a statement today. The mask was investigated for fingerprints, saliva and DNA samples, without any result, they said.
“It was unclear how and when the mask got around the neck of the victim,” the office said.
Oxygen masks are immediately released on passengers when cabins lose pressure, as would happen if a fuselage were punctured. Investigators of the crash, which killed all 298 people on board, have said the plane was brought down by an external impact, possibly a missile, as it traversed a war zone in eastern Ukraine en route to Malaysia from the Netherlands.
Dutch travelers made up the biggest national contingent aboard MH17, at more than 190, followed by Malaysians. The dead also included people from Indonesia, the U.K., Germany, Belgium, the Philippines, Canada and New Zealand.
Sara Vernooij, a spokeswoman of the The Hague-based Safety Board investigating the crash, said she had no additional comment on the analysis of the oxygen mask.
The crash investigation has been complicated by continued fighting between Ukrainian and rebel forces in the region where the Boeing 777 wide-body aircraft came down, which has restricted access to the site. The jet broke up in the air, most likely as a result of structural damage after being penetrated from the outside, the Safety Board said last month.
Even if one passenger had time to pull the mask over his face, it remains unclear how long passengers on the plane remained conscious following the loss of cabin pressure.
“This suggests the aircraft cabin pressure monitoring systems continued to operate, masks dropped, and at least one passenger had time to react to mask availability and don a mask,” said Robert Mann, president of R.W. Mann & Co, adding it remains plausible that a detached mask became tangled around the passenger’s neck in the destruction that followed.