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 Wednesday, according to media reports. The Boeing 777-200 was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17 in an area controlled by pro-Russian separatists, killing all 298 people on board.
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 also reportedly contradicts some findings that claimed that the people aboard the jetliner, which was traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, had been killed instantly after the strike. The official cause of the downing of the plane is reportedly still unclear and the two sides in Ukraine's civil conflict have accused each other for the downing of the plane.
"No, they did not see the missile coming, but you know that someone was found with an oxygen mask over their mouth? That means someone had the time to do that. We cannot rule that out," Timmermans said during a Dutch late-night talk show “Pauw," Dutch News reported.
Timmermans' statement came in response to a comment from 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.”
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.
Meanwhile, a British student from Bristol was identified as one of the victims of the MH17 crash, BBC reported Wednesday. The 20-year-old, identified as Ben Pocock, was reportedly studying at Loughborough University.