Saturday, 21 March 2015

Another MH17 victim identified, two of the 298 passengers remain unidentified

Another victim of the disaster flight MH17 has been identified this week. The victim has the Dutch nationality. A total of 296 identified victims of the disaster in Ukraine have now been identified. The relatives of the victim have been informed.

Since July 2014, the National Forensic Investigation Team (LTFO) of the police deals with the identification of the 298 victims killed in the plane crash. It is hoped that the two remaining missing persons of Dutch nationality can be established from the recovered body parts that have been transferred to Hilversum. No indication can be given when information regarding the identity of the two remaining passengers will be available according to the Ministry of Security and Justice Saturday.

The Malaysia Airlines flight number MH17 gear crashed in July 17 last year in eastern Ukraine. All of the 298 passengers and crew died, including 196 Dutch nationals. The recovered human remains have been transferred from Ukraine to the Corporal Oudheusden Barracks in Hilversum where the identification process takes place.

Saturday 21 March 2015

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One more 9/11 victim at World Trade Center identified, DNA technology explained

br> A Carnegie Mellon University graduate is the latest victim whose remains have been identified in the 2001 World Trade Center attacks, moving the New York medical examiner’s office one step closer to its ultimate goal of putting a name to all of the tissue samples it has kept for years.

Matthew David Yarnell, a young New Jersey computer analyst who graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in 1997, was positively identified last week, said his mother, Michele Yarnell.

At this point, only about 60 percent of the World Trade Center remains have been identified, and many forensic experts believe it will be impossible to put a name to all of them. Still, new techniques are slowly adding verifications like Yarnell’s.

Just a year ago, medical examiner’s officials had told the family that tests had failed to find a match, Michele Yarnell said, but last week, they told her new techniques had yielded a success.

For her, the news carried no special emotional impact. “It hasn’t really changed anything. I still have the same feelings. We didn’t expect any different result. We knew that he was gone.”

While the examiner’s office would not comment on the specific tests used on Yarnell’s remains, forensic experts said the catastrophe had led to several new tools to make it easier to identify damaged tissue samples.

John Butler, a special assistant to the director of forensic science at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, said there have been four key developments in the 14 years since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

First, researchers have figured out how to extract more DNA from bone samples. Where scientists used to grind up the bone, they now use a special chemical solution to dissolve it.

They also have learned how to use smaller stretches of DNA to hunt for unique markers. One key technique involves hunting for repeated sequences of nucleotides, the chemical subunits that make up DNA. A victim and his family members will often have a certain number of those repeats.

Years ago, scientists needed a stretch of 200 to 300 nucleotides to look for repeat sequences, Butler said, but his office helped develop a technique that allows them to use just 100 or so nucleotides, meaning they can hunt for identification using much smaller samples.

Forensic scientists compare the remains to known samples of DNA from the victim or from close relatives. In Yarnell’s case, the family provided the examiner’s office with a comb and toothbrush from his apartment, as well as blood samples from his mother, father and siblings.

The identity sleuths also use a chemical technique to amplify the amount of DNA in a sample. Remains damaged by fire or water, like those at the World Trade Center, often interrupted that amplification process, he said, but new chemical buffers have overcome that obstacle.

Finally, new software has been developed to virtually reassemble the pieces of DNA into a whole sequence, he said, further increasing the odds of a successful identification.

Forensic pathologist Judy Melinek, who got her training in the New York medical examiner’s before and after the 9/11 attacks, recalled that “the forces at work during the World Trade Center disaster included explosions, blunt trauma and fire. Then, after the collapse, fire suppression efforts introduced water and many remains were not recovered for months. The combination of heat, water and decomposition made identification very challenging, and that is why DNA has been used.”

New tools in the future may allow more identifications, and “this may help bring closure to some victims’ family members,” said Melinek, who wrote about her New York training in the book, “Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies and the Making of a Medical Examiner.”

Saturday 21 March 2015

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Bodies of all 10 Uruguay plane crash victims located

The dead bodies of all 10 occupants of a small chartered plane that crashed in southeastern Uruguay have been found, officials told Efe.

The bodies, badly burned in a fire that erupted when the plane crashed into a lagoon, were photographed to register their position and then removed from the wreckage for identification by experts.

"It has been difficult to recognize some bodies and the judge ordered a thorough autopsy based on DNA analysis, and therefore identifying them is going to take several hours," the Maldonado provincial government said.

Nine Argentines and a Portuguese woman died in Thursday night's crash, which occurred shortly after the Buenos Aires-bound plane took off from the airport serving the resort city of Punta del Este.

The passengers worked for an Argentine company and were part of the management team for a planned convention center in Punta del Este, Uruguay's main tourist destination.

Arrangements are currently being made to receive the victims' family members.

The plane, traveling from Punta del Este in Uruguay to Argentina with eight passengers and two crewmen aboard, crashed in a nearby lagoon Thursday shortly after take-off, according to the information provided by the airport.

Personnel who had reached the crash site were maintaining a safe distance from the plane due to the high temperatures inside its fuselage and the combustible liquid that had spilled around it.

Rescue efforts during the night have been hampered by the lack of light and the characteristics of the terrain where the accident took place.

One of the travelers was a Portuguese woman, Palomeque confirmed.

According to local media reports, the plane's passengers were employees of an Argentine company working on a construction project in Punta de Este.

A total of 30 people are involved in the rescue operation including a team of firefighters, an air force helicopter and personnel from the Curbelo naval base that provided boats to reach the plane crash site.

Saturday 21 March 2015

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Rescuers tell of finding last body from Flight GE235

A prayer and the smell of lilies helped rescuers find the last missing body of the 43 victims that perished when TransAsia Airways Flight GE235 crashed into the Keelung River on Feb. 4.

Rescue workers Hu Chin-tsai and Lin Shih-bin of the Taipei Rescue Association told their stories at a ceremony on Wednesday, in which the Ministry of Transportation and Communications recognized the contributions of 93 agencies that participated in the rescue efforts. Hu said he would never forget the afternoon of Feb. 12, when he and other rescuers were searching for the body of the last victim. Hu was operating a rescue boat with Lin on board.

“We were both muttering: ‘Buddy, it has been a few days already. It’s time for you to come out, so everybody can rest,’” he said. Hu said he remembered smelling the fragrance of lilies soon afterward, similar to the flowery smell found in funeral homes, which gave him the feeling that he would soon find the body of the victim.

Before Hu knew it, he and Lin both saw human hair floating on the river and later confirmed that it was the body that they had been searching for. Hu said he believed he was destined to find the last body, adding that three rescue boats had passed through the exact same spot where the body was found before they arrived.

Hu works at Taipei City Hospital, while Lin is a borough warden in Taipei’s Zhongshan District. Both have 20 to 30 years of experience in rescuing people, having participated in disaster relief work when the nation was hit by a massive earthquake on Sept. 21, 1999, and during Typhoon Nari in 2001 and Typhoon Morakot in 2009.

Statistics from the ministry showed that 1,803 motor vehicles and 585 boats were employed to rescue survivors and retrieve the bodies of deceased victims.

Saturday 21 March 2015

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1915 Britannia Mountain disaster

Just after midnight on March 22, 1915, part of Britannia Mountain fell off, just above a mining camp.

“AVALANCHE OVERWHELMS BRITANNIA MINE HEAD,” screamed the front-page headline in the Vancouver World. “50 MEN KILLED, 15 INJURED.”

In fact, there were 56 people killed, and they weren’t all men — several women and children were crushed when Jane Camp was buried under 15 metres of debris.

“In the grey light of the stars, snow, boulders and uprooted trees thundered down into the little cup-like hollow made by the mountains that rise all above the camp,” the World reported a few hours after the disaster.

“No one knows how many were swept into the depression by the slide. More than a thousand men were employed at the Britannia mine on the copper ledges or on the machinery in and around the mine.

“Hundreds of these were sleeping in their bunks, and it is feared scores have been ground up in the terrible rush of debris or smothered in snow.”

The disaster occurred in the dark, about 5.5 kilometres up the mountain above the nearest town, Britannia Beach. Communications was cut by the slide, but about 12:45 a.m. workers down the mountain knew something was amiss when hoppers that were supposed to be filled with ore were arriving empty.

A search party was sent up the mountain, in the dark, and discovered Jane Camp had been demolished.

“The cookhouse, camp-house, engine-house, store, offices, officials’ cottages and some shacks were wiped out,” reported the Province, “The volume of debris did not stop until it had reached Britannia Creek, about a mile and a half below.”

Miner Harry Baxter was one of the survivors.

“Along about midnight came a terrific wind,” he said. “It blew like the furies, and in about two seconds there was a noise which some of the boys thought was 300 cases of explosives going off in the magazine.”

A miner’s wife named Mrs. Owen had a similar story.

“I thought it was a hurricane started to blow,” she said. “You’ve heard a big wind when it tears down trees, and it thunders and lightning crashes — it was just like that. The lights went out, (and) I could hear terrible moaning.”

There were some miraculous escapes, like the three miners who were sleeping on the second floor of the mine office and were swept 300 feet, but lived. But most of the people in the path of the slide were killed.

“One of the most pathetic sights of the whole tragic scene is Thomas McCullough, shift boss, (who) is digging, digging, digging … in the hope of recovering the bodies of his wife and five-year-old daughter Isabella,” the Province reported. “Willing hands are helping him, but his task is a tremendous one. His gaunt form, with pale and drawn features and bloodshot eyes, is to be seen picking, shovelling, digging and scraping amongst the earth and rocks.”

There were various theories as to what caused the slide. The Sun reported a survivor thought it was “the constant dynamiting of the stone ribs of the mountain.” The World reported “there is a small lake at the top of the mountain, and it was suggested that seepage from this had loosened up the soil and rock.”

Geologist S.G. Evans has reviewed the evidence and believes the slide “originated as a rock slope failure from the northeast side of Mammoth Bluffs, above the portal of the Bluff Mine (beside Jane Camp).”

In a paper on the disaster that is posted online, Evans writes “the rock fabric of the Mammoth Bluffs area was dominated by schistosity that dips steeply to the southwest, creating conditions favourable for toppling on northeast facing slopes.”

Schistosity is flakes of rock in sheets. Evans writes “the rock mass” may have been “‘forced outward’ by water produced by two or three days thaw,” which caused it to topple, and produced the slide.

The Britannia disaster is the second deadliest rock slide in Canadian history, after the Frank Slide in Alberta that killed 70 people. Sadly, in 1921, the Britannia mine complex was hit by another natural disaster when a flood killed 37 people at Britannia Beach.

Saturday 21 March 2015

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