Tuesday, 22 July 2014

MH17: Australian experts to join body identification team

An Australian expert about to join an international MH17 disaster victim identification team expects the task will resemble his work after the Black Saturday bushfires.

Forensic pathologist David Ranson left Melbourne for Amsterdam on Tuesday to join the international team in the grim task of identifying the 298 people killed in the MH17 disaster.

Professor Ranson, the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM) deputy director, has identified victims of the Boxing Day tsunami, the Bali bombing and the Kosovo war, and sees similarities between MH17 and the 2009 Black Saturday fires.

"I think the process is very similar to the work we did in the Victorian bushfires," he told AAP.

"I imagine that there will be a number of bodies - some of those will be intact and some will be non-intact, and we will be using similar methods."

Prof Ranson said he is unsure how the heavily-criticised handling of the crash zone by Russian-backed rebels will affect the identifications.

"I don't have exact knowledge of what has happened. I have seen the news reports like everyone else," he said.

"It's very important to ensure the proper collection of that material so that we do not lose items that are useful in the identification process, but I have no detailed information."

A mortuary technician and two odontologists (specialists in identifying victims from dental records) from the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine and a Victoria Police fingerprint expert will join Prof Ranson and the remainder of the Australian contingent.

He said the team will gather dental and pathology specimens, examine jewellery, personal effects and photograph tattoos and other marks, collect medical records and comparable DNA from the victims' home countries based on the MH17 passenger manifest and combine the lab and external records to make formal identifications.

The international forensic team will take care to manage the physical and psychological health of its members, he said.

"We are used to death and we are trained to deal with the families, deal with the medical practitioners, and the other people we gather information from," he said.

"Clearly with a situation like this, the stress will be escalated, so it's very important that staff are not over-stretched and that they are given time to rest so that the quality of their work and their health is not affected."

Overnight a refrigerated train carrying the remains of Australian and other victims of the Malaysia Airlines flight left a rebel-controlled town in eastern Ukraine bound for the country's second biggest city Kharkiv where it will be met by senior Australian officials.

The bodies are then to be flown almost immediately to the Netherlands where an international team, including forensic experts from Australia, will identify the dead.

Up to 39 Australian citizens and residents were among the nearly 300 people killed when MH17 was downed, likely by a missile fired by Russian-backed separatists.

A ceasefire has been declared within a 10km radius of the crash site. Ukraine's deputy prime minister Volodymyr Groysman said all 298 deceased passengers had been loaded onto the train bound for government-controlled Kharkiv.

Tuesday 22 July 2014




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