JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

Moment of impact: MH17's final seconds

Date

Michelle Fay Cortez

Video settings

Please Log in to update your video settings

Video will begin in 5 seconds.

Video settings

Please Log in to update your video settings

MH17 bodies moved from crash site

RAW VISION: OSCE representatives arrive at the site of the Malaysian airlines plane MH17. Rescuers begin moving bodies at the scene.

PT0M0S 620 349

The blast force from the missile that slammed into a Malaysian plane over Ukraine, combined with the plane’s dramatic deceleration, probably instantly rendered everyone on board unconscious or dead.

That’s the best guess of James Vosswinkel, a trauma surgeon who led a definitive study of TWA Flight 800 that exploded and crashed off New York’s Long Island in 1996, killing all 230 on the flight. The Malaysian plane carried 298.

Total destruction: wreckage from Malaysia Airlines MH17.

Total destruction: wreckage from Malaysia Airlines MH17. Photo: AFP

Dr Vosswinkel’s research found that trauma in a mid-air explosion occurs from three sources: the force of the blast, the massive deceleration when a plane going 800km/h stops in mid-air, and the impact of the fall.

Additionally, the loss of cabin pressure can cause hypoxia within seconds at 33,000 feet, leading to loss of consciousness.

‘‘You have such horrific forces that it’s essentially unsurvivable,’’ said Dr Vosswinkel, chief of trauma and surgical critical care at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, in a telephone interview.

The missile that hit MH17 would have been travelling at 5000km/h before impact.

The missile that hit MH17 would have been travelling at 5000km/h before impact. Photo: AP

"No one was conscious or experienced that fall.’’

While none of the 230 passengers in the 1996 crash survived, most of their bodies were subsequently recovered. Though the crash occurred offshore, the analysis found none of the passengers had sea water in their lungs, suggesting none were breathing when they entered the water.

The conditions of many of the bodies found in that crash were widely divergent, according to Dr Vosswinkel.

‘‘You had some devastating injuries where the brain and heart were missing,’’ he said. A couple were ‘‘totally intact; all they had was a broken neck’’.

The study also indicated that it doesn’t matter where you are sitting when there is a mid-air accident or explosion, he said.

"It’s essentially an unsurvivable event for all.’’

The Malaysian plane was a Boeing 777, and it crashed about 30 kilometres from the Russian border in the main battleground of Ukraine’s Civil War.

Separatist rebels, backed by the Russian government, appear to have shot down the commercial airliner with a sophisticated surface-to-air missile, said Robert Pape, an expert in international security affairs at the University of Chicago.

US intelligence systems have been focused on eastern Ukraine for months as the war has raged, allowing analysts to spot the plume of the missile after it was launched, he said in a telephone interview.

The SA-11 used is one of the most modern surface-to-air missiles produced in Russia, which has more than 350 of them, Pape said.

They travel close to 5000km/h.

‘‘They are designed to shoot down fighter jets that are going twice the speed of sound,’’ he said.

‘‘To shoot down a commercial airliner lumbering at 600 miles an hour (1000km) and can’t move is a piece of cake.’’

The type of surface-to-air missile used could have pierced the plane with shrapnel after exploding close to it, said Bill Waldock, a professor of safety science at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, in a telephone interview.

It appears from public reports that the plane was struck toward its tail, blowing most of the structure away, Professor Waldock said.

‘‘That thing uses a proximity fuse which goes off when it gets close,’’ Waldock said.

‘‘The warhead is like a giant shotgun shell sending multiple shards of metal through the plane. It’s doubtful it hit the plane, but once you lose the tail you can’t fly the plane,’’ he said.

Following impact and descent, as the fuselage peeled open, the passengers would certainly have been rendered unconscious, according to Waldock, who said he has explored the circumstances of more than 200 plane crashes.

‘It’s literally an explosive decompression and would have caused a lot of g-force pushing people back in their seats,’’ he said.

While it would have taken the plane minutes to fall from 33,000 feet, hypoxia would have rendered anyone who survived the initial blast unconscious within 30 seconds, Waldock said.

Bloomberg

Related Coverage

Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitors and journalists walk as a pro-Russian separatist stands on guard near bodies at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17. MH17 bodies moved from crash site

RAW VISION: OSCE representatives arrive at the site of the Malaysian airlines plane MH17. Rescuers begin moving bodies at the scene.

MH17: worldwide tributes for victims (Thumbnail) MH17: worldwide tributes for victims

Families and communities around the world pay tribute to the 298 people on board the Malaysian jet, which crashed in eastern Ukraine.

Michael and Carol Clancy Tribute wall

Remembering the Australian victims of the MH17 disaster.

Grief turns to anger in Malaysia as country recoils at second disaster

The time has come to stop pointing accusing fingers at Malaysia, where grief has turned to anger.

Related Coverage

Featured advertisers

Special offers

Credit card, savings and loan rates by Mozo