Saturday, 2 May 2015

Final coffins from MH17 crash to be brought home to Netherlands

The last seven coffins carrying human remains from the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 will be flown home to the Netherlands today, bringing to an end an on-again off-again search bedevilled by fighting between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian separatists.

A 30-strong team of Dutch, Malaysian and Australian investigators managed to reach the site in eastern Ukraine a week ago. They have since recovered about 50 cubic metres of wreckage, as well as body parts and a large number of personal belongings, including passports, rings and watches.

“We have done everything that is humanly possible,” said team leader, Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg, Amsterdam’s police chief. He confirmed that despite snowfalls in the area, they managed to search parts of the site that had previously been too dangerous to reach.

Two unidentified

Mr Aalbersberg said he was “very hopeful” that the body parts would allow forensic experts at a military base in Hilversum to name the final two of the 298 passengers and crew who remain to be identified 10 months after the Boeing 777 was apparently shot down by a Russian-made missile.

By a process of elimination, it is known that those two final victims were Dutch. However, their families still await news of formal identification, which it’s anticipated may now be possible as a result of DNA matches.

The search for remains now officially over, the last seven coffins are due to be flown home to Eindhoven airport on board a C-130 Hercules of the Royal Netherlands Air Force via the “air bridge” to Kharkiv, in the northeast of Ukraine.

When the plane touches down, Operation Bring Them Home – launched in the hours immediately after Flight MH17 disappeared en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17 last year, with the country still in deep shock – will come to its poignant conclusion.

The remains will be greeted on the tarmac at Eindhoven by relatives and friends, as well as by representatives of the government and of the Dutch royal family, and will be given full military honours.

After the Last Post is sounded, they will be transferred in a slow procession, accompanied by police motorcycle outriders, to Hilversum, where the ID work is still going on. Thousands of people are expected to turn out to pay their respects.

Because the wreckage could be crucial to any possible criminal proceedings, it will join previous consignments in a sealed aircraft hangar. There it will be unloaded, photographed, scanned and categorised, before the examination begins.

As much of the jet as possible is being pieced together on a specially constructed frame, although much of the fuselage was badly damaged by fire.

Saturday 2 May 2015

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You don't actually need to bury the dead immediately after a natural disaster

It's a persistent myth that the bodies of the dead after a natural disaster are a big health risk. Sadly, most of the people who die in disasters such as earthquakes or floods are healthy. That means their bodies aren't likely to hold disease that can spread to survivors. (The situation is different for disasters such as the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, during which dead bodies were a major transmitter of illness.)

Public health organizations have been trying for the last decade to get the message across that it's OK to leave bodies unburied after natural disasters, to give people time to identify their deceased loved ones, but as recently as 2013, officials in the Philippines buried people in mass graves following a typhoon there. There are many better ways to prevent disease outbreaks after natural disasters.

In fact, it may actually be better for public health to go about burials more slowly, as natural-disaster consultant Claude de Ville de Goyet argued in an op-ed published in the Pan American Journal of Public Health in 2004:

The inability to mourn a close relative, the lingering doubt on the whereabouts of the disappeared, and the legal limbo of the surviving spouse or child all contribute to the many potential mental health problems associated with disasters and the difficult rehabilitation process that follows.

Mental health is just as crucial as any other aspect of health following disasters. Giving survivors time to identify, mourn, and bury disaster victims in the same way that they would have, had their loved ones died in any other way, is an important part of the healing process.

Saturday 2 May 2015

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Heaton mining disaster's 200th anniversary marked this weekend

A community will come together this weekend to mark the exact day 200 years ago when a Tyneside colliery was struck by disaster.

On May 3, 1815, where St Teresa’s Church now stands on Heaton Road, 110 men and boys were working underground on the early shift.

The Heaton Main Colliery miners hit the old workings of an 18th Century pit, from which water gushed in “with the roar of thunder.”

The inrush trapped 75 workers. Despite valiant attempts, rescuers were unable to reach them.

It was not until January 6, 1816, that the first body was discovered – more than eight months after the tragedy. Another five weeks passed before another 55 victims were found in one spot.

On Sunday, St Teresa’s Church will be the venue for a service of remembrance from 6pm, which will also feature a new song about the disaster by folk legend Jonny Handle, music by the Backworth Colliery Band, Heaton Voices choir, dancing by the children of St. Teresa’s School and other guests.

On Saturday, there will also be events and family activities from 2pm - 4.30pm at The Spinney in High Heaton, which was previously thought to have marked the location of the disaster and where two plaques commemorate the catastrophe.

Also on Saturday at 7.30pm St Teresa’s church hall will stage an evening of mining songs with Heaton Voices and the Appletwig Songbook group. Tickets are £5.

“The events will be an opportunity for people to remember the loss of life but also to mark the fact that Heaton was internationally significant in the development of mining in the 18th and 19th Centuries,” said Heaton History Group secretary Chris Jackson. “There is sadness over the disaster but also pride in Heaton’s mining past.”

The group has won backing from the Heritage Lottery Fund to research the areas’s mining history and place a series of plaques at significant locations.

After the disaster, the North East’s leading mining engineer, John Buddle, wrote that the pitmen “had evidently survived the accident for some time as they had killed a horse and cut the flesh out of his hams,” although little had been eaten.

The final bodies were not located until March 6, 1816. Most of the victims were buried in a corner of St Peter’s churchyard in Wallsend.

Retired history teacher and Heaton-born and bred resident Les Turnbull, has researched the disaster for his book published earlier this year called A Celebration of Our Mining Heritage, published by Chapman Research at £15 in conjunction with the North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers and the Heaton History Group.

He said: “The disaster of 1815 must be remembered but it would be a travesty if this single event should be allowed to take precedence over a century of achievement.

“By remembering the achievements of the industry we establish the most appropriate memorial to those who lost their lives in winning coal.”

Les tells how the relatives of the victims were asked to descend into the mine to identify family members as decay was so advanced that moving the bodies to the surface would have destroyed the evidence.

Elizabeth Thew’s youngest son John had survived, but she had to look for her husband, her eldest son George and her middle son William.

She identified William by his auburn hair. In one of his pockets was found his tin candle box on which he had written: “Fret not, dear mother, for we are singing while we had time and praising God. Mother follow God more than I ever did.”

On the other side, her husband had written: “If John is saved, be a good lad to God and thy mother.”

Saturday 2 May 2015

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