Sat, Oct 11, 2014 - Page 5 News List

MH17 victim wore oxygen mask, Dutch minister says

INSTANT REGRET:The minister apologized for the horror caused by his comment, while prosecutors confirmed an oxygen mask was discovered around the neck of a victim

AFP, THE HAGUE, Netherlands

One of the people on the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 that was shot down over eastern Ukraine in July was found wearing an oxygen mask, the Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans and prosecutors said, raising the possibility that some passengers might have known their plane was doomed.

“You know that somebody was discovered wearing an oxygen mask and had time to put it on,” Timmermans told a talk show on national television on Wednesday.

Dutch prosecutors confirmed on Thursday they were investigating after the oxygen mask was discovered draped around the person’s neck.

“How and when the mask ended up around the victim’s neck is unknown,” the prosecutors said.

“The Dutch Forensics Institute examined the mask looking for fingerprints, saliva and DNA, but the probe has not revealed any result,” they said in a letter to victims’ families which was published online.

None of the other victims of the crash that killed all 298 on board — 193 of them Dutch — was wearing an oxygen mask, they added.

The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 was shot down on July 17 while flying over insurgent-held territory in eastern Ukraine.

The findings of an initial report by a Dutch-led team of air crash investigators appear to back up claims that the plane was hit by an anti-aircraft missile.

Kiev and the West have accused Moscow-backed separatists of shooting it down with a surface-to-air Buk missile supplied by Russia. Moscow denies the charge and has pointed the finger back at Kiev.

Forensics experts suspended their search for bodies due to clashes between Kiev and pro-Russian rebels near the crash site northeast of Donetsk, but said they hoped to return once the fighting died down.

Timmermans on Thursday said he regretted making the announcement before victims’ families had been informed by prosecutors.

“The last thing I wanted to do was increase their pain... I should not have said it,” Timmermans said in a press release after relatives reacted with horror to his comment.

Prosecutors, who sent their letter in reaction to Timmermans’ comment, said they were still investigating the circumstances of the found oxygen mask.

Meanwhile, the Dutch Cabinet said chances of returning to the MH17 crash site were becoming increasingly remote.

“It seems impossible to return to the crash site in the short term given the continuous unstable and unsafe situation,” it said in a letter to the Dutch parliament.

Efforts to retrieve victims’ personal belongings and give them to relatives also continued, said the letter, signed by the Dutch justice, defense and foreign ministers.

Pages in Russian have been set up on Facebook and the VKontakte social networking sites urging people to report the discovery of belongings or body parts from the crash, the letter said.

It also called for the crash site to be made secure to help in further identifying the bodies.

“Furthermore, the aim is also to retrieve the wreckage from the area. To do this, access is essential and needed the cooperation from separatists controlling the area,” the letter said.

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