MH17 passenger had oxygen mask on, Dutch authorities say

Foreign minister apologises for revealing mask was deployed when jet was shot down

All 298 passengers and crew died when the  Malaysia Airlines jet flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur crashed on July 17th. Photograph: Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters

All 298 passengers and crew died when the Malaysia Airlines jet flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur crashed on July 17th. Photograph: Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters

 

The Dutch foreign minister has apologised for revealing on television that one of the passengers on the Malaysian Airlines flight shot down over Ukraine in July was wearing an oxygen mask when his body was recovered.

Frans Timmermans – due to take up the job of first vice-president in Jean-Claude Juncker’s new EU Commission next month – made the revelation on Wednesday night after being accused by an interviewer of having been “overly emotional” when he addressed the UN just days after the crash.

Asked why he had spoken so emotionally about the passengers’ last moments when a rocket would probably have killed everyone instantly, Mr Timmermans replied that in fact one of the passengers had managed to put on an emergency oxygen mask that had dropped down from above his seat.

“So there was time to do that”, he added – immediately re-opening a heart-rending national debate about what exactly happened in the moments after the rocket hit the passenger jet on July 17th and all 298 passengers and crew were killed, 196 of them Dutch citizens.

Relatives of the dead responded immediately to this first indication that not everyone may have died instantly – saying this was the first time they had heard that someone had apparently had time to deploy a mask, and demanding to know why it had been kept from them.

The Dutch public prosecutor was forced to respond to the families on Thursday afternoon, confirming that the mask had deployed and that it had been found around the passenger’s neck rather than over his mouth.

He said it had been secured with elastic, and that both the mask and the tape had been tested for DNA and fingerprints in an effort to establish whether it had been the passenger himself or someone else who had put it on, but the results had been inconclusive.

Nobody else was wearing a mask, the prosecutor confirmed.

Mr Timmermans followed the prosecutor’s clarification with a brief statement of apology – saying he “deeply regretted” his remark and the upset he had caused the families. “The last thing I want is to add to their suffering in any way”, he insisted. “I should not have said it.”

It emerged later that the passenger wearing the mask was an Australian not a Dutch citizen, and that although his relatives were informed at the time, other relatives were not.

Thirty-six of the MH17 passengers remain to be identified. Of 11 victims identified this week, eight were Dutch. Among the others was 20-year-old British business student, Ben Pocock, travelling to Western Australia on a third-year professional placement.