THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The body of one passenger on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was found wearing an oxygen mask, Dutch prosecutors said Thursday, raising questions about how much those on board knew about their fate as their plane went down above eastern Ukraine in July.
The passenger, an Australian, did not have the mask on his face but its elastic strap was around his neck, said Wim de Bruin, a spokesman for the Dutch National Prosecutor's Office, which is carrying out a criminal investigation into the disaster.
De Bruin said Dutch forensic experts investigated the mask "for fingerprints, saliva and DNA and that did not produce any results. So it is not known how or when that mask got around the neck of the victim."
De Bruin said no other bodies from the wreckage were found wearing masks. He said he did not know where the Australian victim had been sitting in the plane.
All 298 passengers and crew died when the jet flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur ended up in pieces July 17. Dutch air crash investigators said it was likely struck by multiple "high-energy objects" which some aviation experts say is consistent with a missile strike.
The head of the criminal investigation said the most likely scenario being investigated is that the Boeing 777 was shot down from the ground.
The Australian passenger's relatives were told about the mask as soon as it was discovered but other victims' relatives only heard about it for the first time Wednesday when Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans mentioned it on a talk show.
After those relatives began calling, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement Thursday saying Timmermans regretted his comments.
"I have an enormous amount of sympathy for the next-of-kin," he said. "The last thing I want to do is compound their suffering."