Nida Fatin Mat Asis was slumped lifeless in her car seat, bleeding profusely from her nose and mouth, after her Honda hit a lamp post and skidded into a ditch. Her husband was slightly injured, and their baby wasn’t hurt at all. Her husband, like Nida a doctor, had no idea what had happened until the post-mortem came in: A broken metal canister, later identified as part of an air bag inflator, had shot through her mouth and lodged in the base of her skull.
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The deaths of Nida and four other Malaysians have been linked to faulty Takata air bags that are at the center of one of the world’s largest auto recalls. The US, with 11 deaths, is the only other country to have reported such fatalities. Why this Southeast Asian country of 30 million would be hit disproportionately hard by the defective air bags is a mystery. The families of two Malaysian victims and a survivor blame weaknesses in their country’s recall system.
They also say Honda, the top foreign brand in Malaysia, hasn’t done enough to warn car owners and hasn’t provided enough replacement parts or alternative options for car owners if repairs cannot be done immediately. The defective air bags have faulty inflators and propellant devices that may deploy improperly in an accident, shooting out metal fragments that can injure or kill.
All the deaths in Malaysia involved the Honda City, a subcompact made for Asia and Europe. Experts say heat and humidity can make air bag explosions more likely, but neighboring Thailand, with a similar tropical climate, has reported no deaths. In his first media interview since his wife died on April 16, her husband Abdullah Shamshir Abdul Mokti told The Associated Press they were unaware of the recall and never got a notice from Honda for their used car.
Initially, he thought Nida, 29, had suffered a concussion. He was horrified to find no pulse. “The inflator must have shot through her mouth like a bullet,” he said. The post-mortem report, shown to the AP, said a broken, 2.6 centimeter (1-inch) diameter, 2-centimeter (8/10ths of an inch) long air bag inflator lodged in the base of Nida’s skull. Her teeth were smashed and her nose fractured. Injuries to her brain stem likely caused her immediate death, it said.
“As a Muslim, I accepted her death as fate but I also believe she is a victim of multinational corporate manslaughter,” Shamshir said. “I hold Honda and Takata responsible. This isn’t an isolated case. We have five deaths in Malaysia, five very preventable deaths.”