Tuesday, 20 January 2015

AirAsia QZ8501: Search agency confirms recovery of 53 remains

The National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas) Indonesia has confirmed having recovered a total 53 remains.

Of the number, 45 had been identified by the team from the Disaster Victim Identification, Police Department Indonesia (DVI POLRI).

AirAsia in the statement here said eight other remains were in the process of being identified.

"The DVI POLRI announced that there is no identification release today. The DVI POLRI team is currently gathering more DNA evidence on the remaining passengers," said the statement.

The statement said Basarnas was able to recover more debris such as passenger windows, seats and other interior parts believed to be from AirAsia QZ8501.

The search and recovery mission continued today as divers began to descend in the Java Sea floor to observe the fuselage wreckage this morning.

However the floating mission continued to be hampered by high waves and adverse weather conditions. AirAsia Indonesia Flight QZ8501, carrying 162 people on board, went down on Dec 28 after losing contact with air traffic control on its way from Surabaya, to Singapore.

Tuesday 20 January 2015


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Bones, ashes at Liberia crematorium a reminder of Ebola trauma

The furnace has been extinguished at a crematorium for victims of the deadly Ebola virus near Liberia's capital Monrovia but a row of barrels filled with ash and charred bone are a reminder of the darkest days of the outbreak.

The seven barrels containing human remains are lined against a black wall. A sheet of paper taped to each says the date the bodies were incinerated but there is no way of identifying them. Small piles of ash lie scattered at other places on the site.

Authorities believe they are close to beating the Ebola virus in this poor West African nation, which together with neighbouring Guinea and Sierra Leone bore the brunt of the worst outbreak on record of the disease.

More than 3,500 people died of Ebola here over the past 10 months but now there are just 10 confirmed cases according to the government, which hopes that figure may fall to zero by the end of next month.

With the worst seemingly past, Liberia is gradually starting to deal with the loss, but for many people it is hard to properly mourn loved ones whose bodies may never be recovered.

Burial plays an important part in West African culture - with mourners often touching the corpse at funerals - in an intimate and spiritual farewell to their loved ones.

Dehmietay Dehmie, head of the volunteers who operated the crematorium, believes he burned the bodies of his three sisters, who died from Ebola, but has no idea where their ashes now lie.

"They were brought here but I could not recognise them because bodies are brought in body bags," said Dehmie, who - like other members of the cremation team in Boys Town - has been ostracised by the local community.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's government decided to start mass cremation at the height of the epidemic in August after scores of people contracted Ebola at traditional burials.

The disease - which has no known cure - is spread by contact with the bodily fluids of the infected and mourners were exposing themselves to high risks of contracting the virus.

The decision received the backing of Medecins Sans Frontieres - the medical charity that took the lead in fighting Ebola - which provided the incinerator for the Boys Town site.

It sent shockwaves through communities, with some families interring their dead themselves rather than see them cremated. Nonetheless, the government says it helped to bring the outbreak under control in Liberia more swiftly than neighbouring Sierra Leone and Guinea - which did not take such action.

"Cremation is not our culture. It was due to necessity that we had to cremate people, but it worked very well," said Assistant Minister of Health, Tolbert Nyensuwah, the head of the government's Ebola taskforce.

With specialised teams trained in safe burial techniques to prevent infection, victims are now being interred in a 50-acre cemetery by the highway to the Roberts International Airport.

The ashes of victims at the crematorium will be transferred to the cemetery at a special ceremony, Nyensuwah said.

Residents of Boys Town - a coastal area 20 km southeast of Monrovia - want compensation for health risks, emotional trauma and social stigma after hundreds of victims were burnt at the crematorium, which stood largely unused since Liberia's brutal 1989-2003 civil war.

"We were not consulted," said spokesman Tibelrosa Tarponweh. He said armed police arrived on Aug. 2, sealed off the crematorium and started delivering corpses: "They intimidated us into submission."

"How can anyone feel witnessing on a daily basis the bodies of fellow citizens dumped and burned, and the smoke of their remains streaking our air and our homes?" he asked.

No-one knows exactly how many people were burned here, but the crematorium team say hundreds of bodies passed through between August and December, when the incinerator was shut down. An MSF spokesman said that the volume of bodies was so high it was impossible to identify them individually.

"We hope the government will dispose of the ashes in a dignified way, for instance with a memorial where the names of all the victims could be engraved," Yann Libessart said.

Estalla Nelson, speaking at a memorial service for her cousin Alexander Anderson who died of Ebola, said cremation could prolong the trauma for families.

"It is going to linger in the minds of people that your loved one died and you could not see the body," she said.

The government is discussing compensation with the community. The toll has been heaviest on 28 men who volunteered at the crematorium and say they have been ostracised by residents.

"People take us not to be normal humans .... People are threatening to chase us out of the community," said J.T. Josiah. "We have been sleeping here in the crematorium."

Tuesday 20 January 2015


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Handheld Biometrics Deployed To Indonesia In Aid of AirAsia Victim Identification

AirAsia Flight QZ8501 went missing on December 28, 2014, enroute from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore. The fight was found shortly after, having crashed into the waters south of Borneo and killed all 162 passengers.

In the effort to identify the fallen victims of this latest major airline disaster, Indonesia’s Automatic Fingerprint Identification System (INAFIS) has been employed with the various Disaster Victim Identification teams. Using a number of technologies including the Trident handheld reader from Credence ID – which is using the Mobile Automatic Multi-Biometric Identification System (MAMBIS) – the disaster response teams are hoping to match the victims’ traits with photos, names and addresses.

According to law enforcement officials from Indonesia, MAMBIS can produce 100 percent matches on victims whose fingerprints have not been damaged, while offering 60 percent accuracy with damaged samples. Over 50 percent of the AirAsia victims have been identified using the Trident device, bringing peace of mind to the mourning families affected by the disaster. Those victims who require other methods of identification, such as X-Ray or DNA matching, will take a significantly longer time to positively match to records.

Underneath the tragedy and ensuing investigation efforts related to the AirAsia crash is the thankful fact that Indonesia benefits from an extremely comprehensive national ID database that includes the biographic and biometric data of nearly every one of the country’s 250 million plus citizens. A national registry, in tragic times like this, is helping identify bodies at a very fast pace thanks to mobile biometric readers like the Trident.

The Trident handheld device, which can enroll and match face, fingerprint and iris biometrics, is used all around the world. In August, Credence ID announced that it won contracts in Mexico and Guatemala to aid in managing the identities of prison populations.

Tuesday 20 January 2015


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India: Centre to create DNA bank of unidentified bodies

Every year, about 40,000 unidentified bodies are disposed of even as thousands go missing across the country. Is there a link between unidentified bodies and missing persons?

The Centre on Monday responded positively to a PIL by NGO Lokniti Foundation and said it has drafted a bill for creating DNA data bank of all unidentified bodies to help find possible link between missing persons and unidentified bodies.

The NGO, through advocate Ashok Dhamija, had suggested keeping DNA profile of the bodies before their disposal to help break the news of the death to families waiting for their missing near and dear ones.

Appearing for the Centre, additional solicitor general Neeraj Kishan Kaul said an expert committee appointed by the department of biotechnology had examined privacy-related issues in the draft 'Human DNA Profiling Bill" and suggested several categories of such profiling, which included the category of unidentified bodies.

"By international standards, one DNA examiner can undertake 100 cases per year. Therefore, India would require 400 DNA examiners (for 40,000 bodies) to do the job. It is financially very resource intensive as on an average, at current costs, it requires Rs 20,000 per case. The cost of identifying 40,000 unidentified bodies would require Rs 80 crore per year. In addition, the overhead cost of salaries and other expenses for keeping 400 DNA examiners and support employees would have to be taken into account," the Centre said.

At present, India has 30-40 DNA examiners in forensic laboratories for 1.2 billion population against an estimated requirement of around 800-1,000 such examiners, it conceded.

"Therefore, it is necessary to set up large number of DNA testing units with skilled personnel who are capable of handling forensic DNA testing for keeping data bank of unidentified bodies," the Centre said.

Dhamija had earlier argued that unidentified bodies could be because of serious crimes. "Since the bodies cannot be identified using traditional methods, the perpetrators of the possible crime remain untraced and the families to which the victims belong never come to know about the fate of their relatives," he said.

"DNA profiling of unidentified bodies can help match the missing persons. In addition, DNA profiling of missing persons could help trace them and reunite several who had either been missing or kidnapped as children and forced into prostitution, bonded labour or even those who have turned mentally unstable," he added.

The petitioner said that though the government had been considering a proposal for DNA profiling of unidentified bodies since 2007, no decision was taken yet. As per data compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau, number of unidentified bodies recovered and inquest conducted were 37,282 in 2007, 37,668 in 2008, 34,902 in 2009, 33,857 in 2010 and 37,193 in 2011.

In 2011, the highest number of unidentified bodies was recovered in Maharashtra (6,313), followed by Tamil Nadu (4,479), Uttar Pradesh (4,084), West Bengal (3,704), Delhi (2,748), Andhra Pradesh (2,639), Karnataka (2,440), Gujarat (2,099), Madhya Pradesh (1,191), Rajasthan (1,170), Haryana (1,159) and Punjab (1,004).

The petitioner said, "One of the main reasons for large number of bodies remaining unidentified is that people freely move from one part to another in search of work and members of poor families have no means to keep in touch with their near and dear ones. It becomes difficult for the local police to identify persons who have no local connection and who have died without anyone complaining of death caused by any mischief."

It said 11,846, 13,586 and 13,268 people went missing in Delhi alone in 2006, 2007 and 2008 respectively. In Andhra Pradesh, 47,936 people went missing during 2009-12 and in Gujarat, another 37,395 were reported missing during 2007-11.

Tuesday 20 January 2015


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