Dutch authorities have apologised for distress that might have been caused by revealing that an oxygen mask was draped around (or “over” in some translations) the neck of an Australian victim of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which was shot down over eastern Ukraine in July.

What might the disclosure mean?

The Dutch reports make it clear that the mask was not on the face of the victim, but this has not stopped some media outlets from reporting that the wearing of the mask means that people on board MH17 may have remained conscious after the initial decompression. Some may have. But this sort of speculation is trash disaster porn, written by people who obviously haven’t even remembered the details of the cabin safety briefings on the use of oxygen masks that many of their readers would have noted making regular flights.

Several flight attendants have made it clear that having any part of such a mask around a passenger’s lower neck doesn’t fit with it being used for its intended purpose. For a mask to be that low, if deployed in an emergency, it would require force to pull it lower than its intended position over the mouth and nose of a passenger. However, in use it would be possible for the connection of the mask to the overhead compartment to sag lower, but not “way lower”.

The positioning as described doesn’t allow any conclusion to be made about whether this was a conscious placement of the mask, or if it was found where it was because of other forces.

When properly fitted, an oxygen mask should not end up with anything actually encircling the main part of neck of the user. There is a positioning band that passes around the back of the face where it could be fitted at the base of the skull, or the upper neck, but any placement lower than the bottom of the jaw line would be counter-productive.

The unfortunate comments made by Dutch authorities did not include enough detail to be meaningful.

The masks are stowed in an overhead panel. These panels are intended to open readily when pressure in the cabin falls below safe levels. They have often been reported as falling open in severe turbulence.

The interim report into the MH17 crash says that multiple high-energy objects pierced the metal skin the Boeing 777-200ER, and it is illustrated with close-up and general-view images of the damage these objects did to the cockpit, which was one of the most intensively examined parts of the wreckage.

The wreckage of the aircraft is widely spread. All 298 people on board the flight died when it crashed on July 17.

In a sudden decompression of an airliner the oxygen masks should have deployed immediately. The authorities have not disclosed whether any other evidence of deployed oxygen masks has been seen at the crash sites, but they have said that a mask was only seen “draped”, according to most translations, around the the neck of one passenger.

The general media is reporting that the passenger was wearing the mask. This is disgraceful and inaccurate reporting.

The use of the oxygen mask, as indicated on an Air France safety card, is shown below. Note the position of the strap.

Peter Fray

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