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AIR AND SPACE

Missile likely caused ‘catastrophic decompression’ for MH17 passengers: Expert

MH17.jpg

 (REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev)

Any passengers who survived the surface-to-air missile blast that downed Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 would have lost consciousness almost immediately from a “catastrophic decompression” in the plane’s cabin, an aviation expert says.

The Boeing 777 was cruising at an altitude of 33,000 feet when it was hit in Eastern Ukraine on Thursday. Horrific images of bodies strewn among the plane’s wreckage appeared shortly after the plane was downed. None of the 298 passengers and crew survived.

In a blog post, Rome-based aviation writer David Cenciotti wrote that the missile likely caused a massive decompression in the aircraft’s passenger cabin.

“Outside temperature at that altitude is always around -50°C (-58°F),” he wrote in an email to FoxNews.com. “With holes on the fuselage and a speed of more than 450 Knots (518 miles per hour) passengers had no way to survive. We don't know whether the aircrew survived the blast even though they most probably became unconscious quite fast.”

U.S. intelligence sources have confirmed that the plane was hit by a surface-to-air missile near the village of Chornukhine, Luhansk Oblast, 30 miles from the Russian border.

“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 (or more than one…the launcher has 4 missiles) as it detonated in the B777 proximity,” Cenciotti wrote. “The fragmentation of the warhead caused fast moving shrapnels to penetrate the fuselage at very high speed.”

The blast and the shrapnels would cause immediate decompression, fire, lack of electric power, inability to move control surfaces,” he wrote. “We don't know where the missile(s) hit the Boeing but it's safe to say the impact of the shrapnels caused serious damage to the airframe making the aircraft extremely unstable.”

Pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian government have traded charges about who was behind the missile that downed the aircraft, though intercepted phone calls released on Thursday appear to indicate that the separatists were responsible.

In his blog, The Aviationist, Cenciotti noted that that it was “just a matter of time” before a civilian aircraft was shot down in Ukraine’s airspace. “In spite of the amount of aircraft shot down by the rebels, civil airliners flew through the SAM (surface-to-air missile)-infested airspace of Eastern Ukraine with the risk of being mistakenly hit,” he wrote.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers