A passenger of the downed Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was found with an oxygen mask over the mouth when the body was recovered from the crash site, Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said on Wednesday.
Timmermans’ statement came in response to a comment from TV host Jeroen Pauw that the final moments aboard Flight MH17 were not as suggested by Timmermans in his speech at the U.N. Security Council in the week after the tragedy.
Timmermans had reportedly said during his U.N. speech on July 21 that the passengers on board the Malaysia Airlines plane remained conscious after the aircraft was struck by a suspected missile.
“I’ve been thinking how horrible the final moments of their lives must have been, when they knew the plane was going down,” Timmermans reportedly said at the time. “Did they lock hands with their loved ones, did they hold their children close to their hearts, did they look each other in the eyes, one final time, in a wordless goodbye? We will never know.”
A preliminary report of the investigation by the Dutch Safety Board into the crash stated that the jetliner broke apart in mid-air after being hit by “a large number of high-energy objects that penetrated the aircraft from outside.”
Timmermans’ announcement indicates that some passengers on board Flight MH17 may have remained conscious after the aircraft was reportedly hit by a surface-to-air missile. It contradicts findings that claimed that the people aboard the jetliner, which was traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, had been killed instantly after the strike of a BUK missile.
Jeroen Pauw accused Timmermans of making an emotional speech about the last moments of those on board the plane to the United Nations shortly afterwards.
The first report on the crash shows there is no single moment when the passengers could have realised that a rocket was approaching the plane, Pauw said.
In his rebuttal, Timmermans said one of the passengers was found with an oxygen mask on. ‘So there was time to do that,’ the minister said.
The plane had 298 people on board, of whom 196 were Dutch. So far 262 of the victims have been identified. The Netherlands is in charge of the investigation.
Timmermans was invited to a Dutch late-night talk show “Pauw,” Dutch News reported.
Experts said earlier that the passenger may not have noticed the attack. “The passengers probably lost consciousness immediately,” said researcher James Vosswinkel to Bloomberg. Joris Melkert, lecturer in aeronautical engineering at Delft University concluded that the device disintegrated in the air.
Relatives of the victims this morning received yet another email confirming that an oxygen mask was found on an Australian victim.
About 228 coffins have been reportedly flown back to the Netherlands for identification of the victims. However, forensic experts have not been able to recover all the bodies from the crash site due to the ongoing conflict in the area.