Experts Say MH17 Passengers Were Probably Unconscious Before They Knew What Was Happening

Emergency workers wreckage malaysia airlines ukraine crashREUTERS/Maxim ZmeyevEmergencies Ministry members walk at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. The Malaysian airliner Flight MH-17 was brought down over eastern Ukraine on Thursday, killing all 295 people aboard and sharply raising the stakes in a conflict between Kiev and pro-Moscow rebels in which Russia and the West back opposing sides.

There’s a lot we don’t know about what happened to Malaysia Airline flight MH17.

We know that 298 people were killed while flying over eastern
Ukraine. Most experts and U.S. intelligence officials have said they believe a surface-to-air missile was fired at the plane and launched from an area controlled by pro-Russian separatists. This isn’t the first plane to be shot down in that area by those separatists. Until aviation and forensic investigators are able to examine the crash site, the bodies, and the plane’s black box data recorders, however, it will be hard to say exactly what happened to the plane and its passengers.

Meanwhile, people around the world, including family members of the victims, are left wondering what happened to the passengers in the final moments. While that depends on how much damage the plane suffered, here’s what different experts think:

Passengers probably did not suffer and were not aware of what happened, according to Doug Richardson, the editor of I.H.S. Jane’s Missiles & Rockets.

Richardson told Time Magazine that the Buk missile allegedly used to shoot down the plane normally detonates right before it reaches its target, releasing shrapnel in a way that’s designed to cut through multiple parts of an aeroplane. The explosion would have caused the plane suddenly to lose pressure.

“The decompression would have been quick, and the passengers would have been knocked out before they knew what was happening,” Richardson told Time.

David Cenciotti of The Aviationist gave a similar statement to Fox News, concurring that the missile probably caused a massive decompression.

“It’s not easy to guess what may have happened but I think that the aircraft was invested by the shock wave of the missile,” he wrote. “The blast and the shrapnel would cause immediate decompression, fire, lack of electric power, inability to move control surfaces.”

After the TWA Flight 800 explosion, trauma surgeon James Vosswinkel conducted a full study into that crash. This disaster was of a different nature, but much of his research is also applicable in this case.

His findings reported that after a midair explosion, trauma would be caused by the blast itself, followed by the immediate deceleration of the plane, and then the fall of the aircraft. He told Bloomberg that the loss of cabin pressure would have caused hypoxia within seconds, meaning that everyone would have lost consciousness.

“No one was conscious or experienced that fall,” he said.

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