Malaysia Airlines MH17 blast was 'unsurvivable'

23:07, Jul 18 2014
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17
Malaysia Airlines flight 17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17
The crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 near the village of Grabovo, Ukraine.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17
Emergencies Ministry members work at the site of a Malaysia Airlines plane crash near Grabovo, Ukraine.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17
Emergencies Ministry members work at the site of a Malaysia Airlines plane crash near Grabovo, Ukraine.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17
Wreckage from Malaysia Airlines flight 17 smoulders at the main crash site.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17
Wreckage from Malaysia Airlines flight 17 smoulders at the main crash site.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17
Wreckage from Malaysia Airlines flight 17 smoulders at the main crash site.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17
Wreckage from Malaysia Airlines flight 17 smoulders at the main crash site.
Part of the wreckage of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 is seen after it crashed near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region.
Part of the wreckage of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 is seen after it crashed near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region.
MALAYSIA2
The site of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region.
The upper floor of Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport is reserved for family and relatives of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.
The upper floor of Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport is reserved for family and relatives of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.
Ukraine plane crash
An Emergencies Ministry member walks at the site of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in Ukraine.
People bring flowers and candles to the Dutch embassy to commemorate the victims of the Malaysia Airlines plane crash.
People bring flowers and candles to the Dutch embassy to commemorate the victims of the Malaysia Airlines plane crash.
Family members of passengers on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on a bus bringing them to a separate area at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport.
Family members of passengers on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on a bus bringing them to a separate area at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and other high-ranked officials observe a minute's silence for victims of the Malaysia Airlines plane crash.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and other high-ranked officials observe a minute's silence for victims of the Malaysia Airlines plane crash.
US President Barack Obama speaks about the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, during a visit to Wilmington, Delaware.
US President Barack Obama speaks about the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, during a visit to Wilmington, Delaware.
Armed pro-Russian separatists stand at the site of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash near the settlement of Grabovo.
Armed pro-Russian separatists stand at the site of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash near the settlement of Grabovo.
Talking to reporters, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (R) demands swift justice for those responsible for the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, as Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein looks on.
Talking to reporters, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (R) demands swift justice for those responsible for the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, as Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein looks on.
Schiphol Chief Executive Jos Nijhuis, Malaysia Airlines Senior Vice President Huib Gorter (middle) and Malaysia's ambassador to the Netherlands Fauziah Binti Mohd Taib at a news conference on flight MH17 at Schiphol Airport.
Schiphol Chief Executive Jos Nijhuis, Malaysia Airlines Senior Vice President Huib Gorter (middle) and Malaysia's ambassador to the Netherlands Fauziah Binti Mohd Taib at a news conference on flight MH17 at Schiphol Airport.
Smoke rises from the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.
Smoke rises from the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.
MH17
A firefighter stands as flames burst amongst the wreckages of the MH17.
MH17
The wreckage smoulders at the site of the MH17 crash.
An Emergencies Ministry member walks at the site of the Malaysia Airlines plane crash.
An Emergencies Ministry member walks through the site of the Malaysia Airlines plane crash.
A woman who said she believed her sister was on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, cries as she waits for more information.
A woman who said she believed her sister was on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, cries as she waits for more information.
A father and daughter light candles at the Dutch embassy to commemorate the victims of Malaysia Airlines MH17.
A father and daughter light candles at the Dutch embassy to commemorate the victims of Malaysia Airlines MH17.
People light candles at the Malaysian embassy for victims of Malaysia Airlines MH17.
People light candles at the Dutch embassy for victims of Malaysia Airlines MH17.
People place candles and flowers at the Dutch embassy for victims of Malaysia Airlines MH17.
People place candles and flowers at the Dutch embassy for victims of Malaysia Airlines MH17.
A family member cries as she receives the news of the ill fated flight MH17.
A family member cries as she receives the news of the ill fated flight MH17.
A Malaysian woman who had a relative on board the Malaysian Airlines MH17 reacts to messages on her mobile phone as she waits to travel to Kuala Lumpur.
A Malaysian woman who had a relative on board the Malaysian Airlines MH17 waits to travel to Kuala Lumpur.
Relatives of passengers onboard the downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 arrive at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
Relatives of passengers onboard the downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 arrive at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
A father and daughter light candles at the Dutch embassy to commemorate the victims of Malaysia Airlines MH17.
Malaysian Siti Dina weeps after seeing her daughter's name on the list of passengers on board MH17.
A security officer passes a Malaysia Airlines advertisement at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, Malaysia.
A security officer passes a Malaysia Airlines advertisement at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang
A man (in blue) whose family was onboard the Malaysia Airlines MH17 consoles another who had just arrived with her wife to receive confirmation that their daughter's family was onboard the plane, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
A man (in blue) whose family was onboard the Malaysia Airlines MH17 consoles another who had just arrived with her wife to receive confirmation that their daughter's family was onboard the plane, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
A relative of a passenger onboard the Malaysia Airlines (MAS) MH17 is assisted by MAS staff members as she leaves Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
A relative of a passenger onboard the Malaysia Airlines (MAS) MH17 is assisted by MAS staff members as she leaves Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
Malaysian Siti Dina speaks to media as she arrives to confirm news that her daughter was on board Malaysia Airlines MH17 at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
Malaysian Siti Dina speaks to media as she arrives to confirm news that her daughter was on board Malaysia Airlines MH17 at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
AIDS Conference
Members of the public walk past signage on the Princes Bridge for the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia. Twenty-seven Australians and more than 100 AIDS activists, researchers, health workers and delegates bound for the major conference were among those aboard MH17.
MH17
Relatives of passengers on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 arrive at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
A journalist takes photographs at the site of Thursday's Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash
A journalist takes photographs at the site of Thursday's Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash.
Members of the Ukrainian Emergency Ministry search for bodies near the site of Thursday's Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash.
Members of the Ukrainian Emergency Ministry search for bodies near the site of Thursday's Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash.
Members of the Ukrainian Emergency Ministry search for bodies near the site of Thursday's Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash.
Members of the Ukrainian Emergency Ministry search for bodies near the site of Thursday's Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash.
MH17 crash
A woman lights candles at a memorial for victims of the downed Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in Kuala Lumpur.
MH17 crash
Pro-Russian separatists look at passengers' belongings at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.
MH17 crash
A pro-Russian separatist holds a stuffed toy found at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.
MH17 crash
A flower placed on wreckage is pictured at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17.
MH17 crash
A man blocks access to the scene of the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 as emergency personnel remove the bodies of passengers.

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

All 283 passengers, and 15 crew members aboard the Amsterdam-to-Kuala Lumpur flight were killed in the  crash, which happened over eastern Ukraine about 3am yesterday, NZT.

US authorities and aviation experts said the Boeing 777 was likely brought down by a ground-to-air missile, but so far there was no proof of who fired it. Ukraine and the insurgents blamed each other.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said a New Zealand woman on the plane normally resided in Australia, and was travelling with her husband, a Dutch citizen. A British citizen also on the plane had lived in New Zealand long-term.

Two Newcastle United fans who were travelling to watch their football team play in New Zealand were among the victims.

James Vosswinkel, a trauma surgeon who led a definitive study of TWA Flight 800, said passengers on MH17 probably didn’t realise what was happening.

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Flight 800 exploded and crashed off New York's Long Island in 1996, killing all 230 on the flight. The Malaysian plane carried 298.

Vosswinkel's research found that trauma in a mid-air explosion occured from three sources, the force of the blast, the massive deceleration when a plane going 800 kilometres an hour stops in mid-air, and the impact of the fall. Additionally, the loss of cabin pressure could cause hypoxia within seconds at 33,000 feet, leading to loss of consciousness.

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

"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 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 didn't matter where you were sitting when there was a mid-air accident or explosion, he said.

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

Justin Bronk, a research analyst at the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based military think tank, said the United States has sophisticated military satellites capable of detecting a missile launch, but might be unwilling to share its images in order to protect its secret surveillance capabilities.

"They will probably try to liaise with civilian satellite operators to see if there are any who also picked up the trail on infra-red sensors so that they can publicly release that data," he said.

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, said Robert Pape, an expert in international security affairs at the University of Chicago.

The SA-11 used was one of the most modern surface-to-air missiles produced in Russia, which had more than 350 of them, Pape said. They could travel at nearly 5000kmh.

"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 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 appeared from public reports that the plane was struck toward its tail, blowing most of the structure away, 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 over 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.

Six people on the plane have been confirmed as heading to the International AIDS meeting in Australia. Former International AIDS Society President Joep Lange, a well- known disease researcher, was on the flight with his partner Jacqueline van Tongeren.

Also identified were World Health Organisation spokesman Glenn Thomas; lobbyist Pim de Kuijer and programme manager Martine de Schutter from the Netherlands's AIDS Fund, according to statements from their organisations.

- Bloomberg News