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MH17 Passenger Found ‘Wearing Oxygen Mask’

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A passenger on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was found wearing an oxygen mask when the victim’s body was recovered in eastern Ukraine, the Dutch foreign minister and public prosecutor’s office said.

“They did not see the missile coming; but you know that someone was found with an oxygen mask over (his or her) mouth? So (he or she) had time to do that,” Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans told the Dutch talk show “Pauw” on Wednesday.

The Dutch public prosecutor confirmed the minister’s account, saying that “during the identification process an oxygen mask was indeed found on a victim.”

“The mask was attached around the victim’s neck with an elastic strap. The Netherlands Forensic Institute examined the mask for fingerprints, saliva and DNA, but the results were inconclusive,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement Thursday. “It is not known how and at what point the mask came to be around the victim’s neck. The passenger’s relatives were informed at the time. None of the other victims recovered were found to be wearing oxygen masks.”

New information raises questions

The statements raise questions about what happened in the moments after the Boeing 777 was allegedly hit by a missile over eastern Ukraine July 17, in an area controlled by pro-Russian separatists. The fact that a passenger was able to put on an oxygen mask seems to dispel the idea that all 298 people on board were killed instantly in the air.

The United States and Ukraine accused pro-Russian separatists operating in the region of downing the plane with a missile, a charge the rebels denied.

A preliminary report by the Dutch Safety Board last month supported that theory, saying the plane was hit by “high-energy objects,” but it did not cast blame. About two-thirds of those who died in the incident were Dutch. The plane was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

‘I should not have said it’

Timmerman’s remarks appear to have been off-the-cuff. On Thursday, he said that he regretted revealing the information about the oxygen mask, because not all the victims’ relatives had yet been informed.

“I should not have said it,” he said in a statement released by the foreign ministry. “I feel enormously for the next of kin. The last thing I want is to in any way worsen their suffering.”

The foreign ministry said the government had previously informed the family of the victim who was wearing the mask, but had not distributed the information further because “no conclusion” could be drawn from the fact that the victim was wearing a mask, and “more research is needed.”

The victim was not of Dutch nationality, the foreign ministry said, but it did not specify where the victim was from. All next of kin have now been informed.