Thursday, 2 July 2015

Outdated methods will hamper efforts to identify USS Oklahoma remains, experts say

As the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency exhumes the comingled remains of 388 sailors and Marines from the USS Oklahoma who are buried in Hawaii as unknowns, experts are skeptical that scientists will be able to identify them based on outdated DNA testing methods.

The DPAA lab usually uses mitochondrial and Y-STR DNA testing in its work, methods that could put the Hawaii laboratory and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory in Delaware at a disadvantage.

“The technology they’re using is basically 1990s technology,” said Cecil Lewis Jr., presidential research professor, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Oklahoma, and co-director of its Laboratories of Molecular Anthropology and Microbiome Research. “Genomic science has aggressively moved past it.”

Nuclear autosomal DNA testing would give the agency the best chance to identify the crewmembers, who died when the Oklahoma was sunk during the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

Nuclear autosomal DNA, which comes from mother and father, is like a fingerprint, exclusive to a single individual, and is better suited to making speedy and precise identifications, experts said. Because of its level of certainty, it could stand alone as the only step in a successful identification process.

Mitochondrial DNA comes only from the mother, with Y-STR coming from the father. They are not precise methods and have a margin for error. Experts say they are better used in confirming an identification after weighing circumstantial, dental and other types of evidence, and in excluding a potential match.

A search of the DPAA website indicates that the lab relies almost exclusively on mitochondrial, or mtDNA, testing to identify remains.

Since 2012, DPAA — and its predecessor agency, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command — have put out more than 420 news announcements about remains being identified. More than 400 mention mtDNA as the means of identification. Only a few described use of nuclear autosomal DNA.

DPAA and AFDIL officials said they do use nuclear autosomal DNA, but declined to provide the number of times it has been attempted and was successful in recent years.

“As far as numbers go, we don’t talk numbers,” said Tim McMahon, the Armed Forces DNA lab’s deputy director for forensic services. “We run it on a case-by-case basis, and the results and the availability of family references will dictate when and how we will use testing.”

DPAA’s reluctance to divulge its success rate is unusual in the scientific community, said Christina Warinner, who works with Lewis at the University of Oklahoma lab.

“It is considered field standard for ancient DNA labs to publish their success rates for each study,” she said.

Which test is best?

Last year, AFDIL and the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office stated that nuclear autosomal DNA could be used only on current war casualties.

“Unfortunately, nucDNA is not a viable tool in older remains due to many environmental factors that cause the nucDNA to degrade,” the DPMO website said before the agency was wrapped into the newly formed DPAA.

Another problem often cited by DPAA and AFDIL officials is the need for immediate family members to make a nuclear match.

“What people don’t understand is that autosomal DNA, because you receive half from your mother and half from your father, in successive generations those autosomal-STR markers are diluted, and we may have very few relevant autosomal markers present in the family reference samples that we have — if we even have a viable autosomal-STR family reference sample available,” said Navy Capt. Edward Reedy, new DPAA medical examiner. “So to sum up, generally we can’t make an identification based solely on autosomal DNA or Y-DNA because we don’t have enough autosomal markers to compare against and we may not have the proper family reference samples.”

Experts contacted by Stars and Stripes said that obtaining viable nuclear autosomal samples is more difficult than mtDNA, and that inexperienced analysts often have a hard time getting a complete DNA profile from a sample because of environmental factors, which could include the acidity of the soil or burial of remains with metal objects. However, experience and setting the proper extraction parameters have proven effective in the private sector in recent years.

Ed Huffine, former vice president of international development for forensic DNA firm Bode Technology Group Inc., used nuclear autosomal DNA last year to identify the remains of Army Pfc. Lawrence Gordon, who was killed in 1944. Huffine, who worked for AFDIL, said nuclear DNA testing enabled him to reach beyond immediate family to nieces and nephews and even cousins to make the identification.

An internal government email obtained by Stars and Stripes seems to acknowledge the AFDIL lab’s shortcomings.

“Obviously the Bode lab is superior to AFDIL, as we should have been pursuing [nuclear] DNA all this time,” said correspondence between JPAC personnel and officials from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner’s office, which includes AFDIL. The name of the sender and recipient were redacted due to government privacy policies.

Damir Marjanovic, a professor at the University of Sarajevo and former forensic genetics expert for the International Commission on Missing Persons tasked with identifying war victims in Bosnia, said that nuclear DNA is the No. 1 choice when possible.

“We have successfully used autosomal nuclear DNA in identification of the WWII victims from the mass graves in Slovenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina,” he said. “We have obtained useful autosomal nuclear DNA profiles for more than 90 percent of analyzed skeletal remains.”

Marjanovic said that he has obtained useful autosomal profiles from skeletal remains from the 13th and 15th centuries.

He would not comment on the U.S. government’s capabilities.

Joshua Hyman, director of the University of Wisconsin’s Biotechnology Center DNA Sequencing Facility, said that the debate over identifying remains shouldn’t focus just on mitochondrial versus nuclear testing. Instead, the government should work on getting its labs up to speed with emerging technologies and using DNA as part of the initial analysis of the evidence and not as a last step in identification.

He said these dated practices are happening in forensic labs across the country, including those run by the U.S. government.

Hyman and his colleagues at the University of Wisconsin, as well as Lewis and Warinner, said that next-generation sequencing is the way forward. They have been using that technology for years.

Meanwhile, the Defense Department labs have experimented with the technology but have not perfected or adopted it, according to documents.

Huffine said he worries that family members will die while waiting for DOD to identify Oklahoma remains.

“It’s like they’re using a 20-year-old computer,” he said. “Change needs to come if we’re going to ID our missing in a reasonable time frame.”

Thursday 2 July 2015

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Mumbai’s eastern suburbs account for highest 30% missing adults, minors

The city police on Wednesday said 5,894 individuals from all age groups went missing in Mumbai in the six months between November 2014 and May 2015.

Out of the total missing cases registered, 17.5% (1,033 cases) involved minor boys and girls. Most of those who had disappeared were between 14 and 18 years.

The maximum number of cases — 29% — was filed in the eastern suburbs (1,717 cases) during the period. It topped the missing count in all four categories: minor boys and girls, and men and women. The north region came after east in number of cases and was followed by central, west and south regions.

During investigations, sleuths found that most cases of disappearing teens turned out to be elopements or running away from home due to study pressure. Adults seemed to be going missing due to domestic issues or unemployment.

Gender-wise, girls (615 against 418 missing boys) and women (2,438 against 2,423 men) topped the list. Surprisingly, in the six months the Mumbai police report shows that they traced more minor girls (621) than were lost (615).

"We have managed to track down 75-80% of the total missing persons during the period. The overall tracking percentage shown is 90-100% which includes tracing of missing persons during the mentioned period and those who went missing earlier," said Mumbai police spokesperson DCP Dhananjay Kulkarni.

Most cases involving minors are those of running away from home and not kidnapping, he added.

Police officials revealed a major problem they face in missing cases is parents insisting on a kidnap case. "Though we know that most missing children have run away over some small issue or the other, we are forced to register an FIR. In a case of kidnap, a separate investigation team has to be formed. The force, already short-staffed, is assigned to a probe though most children run away and are not kidnapped," said a police officer from the central suburbs.

"Many youngsters also leave home because they are depressed or because they have quarrelled with family members," said a senior police officer. "Among older people, many "who suffer from mental ailments wander away."

"Strife in the house, parents' disapproval of teenage love affairs, pressure from parents on studies and quest of career advancement are the major reasons of teens and youths going missing," said IPS officer-turned-lawyer Y P Singh.

Thursday 2 July 2015

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15 dead, 19 injured in Peru bus crash

At least 15 people were killed and 19 others injured on Wednesday when a bus tumbled 700 metres down the side of a mountain in central Peru`s Ancash region, authorities said.

First responders have recovered 15 bodies, but "there are more, apparently", regional health director Cesar Fallaque told RPP Noticias radio, adding that the dead "are scattered across the slope".

All 19 injured passengers were initially taken to a hospital in Huaraz and were set to be transferred to better-equipped facilities in Lima, he said.

Four of the injured are in serious condition, Fallaque said.

The accident took place around 4 a.m. at a remote spot on the Conococha-Antamina highway, a police spokesperson said from the town of Chiquian.

Police are uncertain how many people were aboard the bus, she said.

The bus was travelling from Lima to Llata, a town in the Huanuco region, according to media reports.

Thursday 2 July 2015

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12 dead as train carrying military troops falls into canal near Gujranwala

At least 12 people, including a senior army officer, were killed on Thursday when a train carrying soldiers and military hardware fell into a canal in Gujranwala following the partial collapse of a bridge, officials said.

The accident occurred near the eastern town of Wazirabad in Punjab as it headed to the garrison town of Kharian.

A statement issued by the military said four carriages derailed as the train crossed Chanawan Bridge.

DG ISPR Asim Bajwa tweeted that eight bodies, including “Lieutenant Colonel Amir”, the commander of a unit, had so far been recovered while a further four people were missing.

“Almost 200 people were travelling on the train,” said SSP Waqas Nazir, adding that the canal has been closed to carryout the rescue operation.

“There were around 300 passengers on board,” Minister for Railways Khawaja Saad Rafique told Reuters.

“It is too early to say about the reason for the mishap. Rescue work is under way.”

More than 50 people were rescued, a military official said.

Television images of the scene showed several carriages partly submerged in the canal.

Rafiq said the cause of the crash was unknown. But a senior military official said the army suspected sabotage.

“We suspect that this was an act of sabotage… The planks on the rail were tampered with,” the official said, requesting anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the media.

The collapse also raises concerns about the safety of infrastructure. Several TV channels reported that the bridge had been marked as “extremely dangerous”.

Later on, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif expressed concerns for those injured in the accident.

He directed the authorities concerned to mobilise all resources to rescue the injured and restore the track.

Further, the premier directed medical aid to be given to the injured and assure safe return to their destinations.

Thursday 2 July 2015

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Tragedy in the sea: Ship mishaps in the last 20 years

The shocking news about the motor banca MV Nirvana-B capsizing just after leaving Ormoc port has left dozens dead and more missing. The Philippine Coast Guard is still working on rescue operations as of press time.

We list down shipping accidents in the past 20 years:

- MV Cebu City, Dec. 2, 1994. The MV Cebu City collided with Singapore oil tanker MV Kota Suria off Manila Bay and sunk. Seventy-three perished while 41 were declared missing. The MV Kota Suria incidentally, only had a dent in its bow.

- MV Viva Antipolo VII, May 16, 1995. The MV caught fire within the vicinity of Lucena, Quezon. Sixty-two died and 10 went missing.

- MV Kimelody Cristy, Dec. 13, 1995. The cold winds of December wasn’t enough to fan out the flames that engulfed the ship off the coast of Fortune Island, Nasugbu, Batangas. Twenty-four perished with 13 missing.

- ML Gretchen I, Feb. 18, 1996. Made of wood, the ML Gretchen I did not stand a chance against strong winds and sank near Cadiz City. Aside from its seaworthiness, the ship was also overloaded and had no radio on board. Fifty-one died.

- MV Princess of the Orient, Sept. 18, 1998. The MV Princess sailed from Manila to Cebu despite a raging typhoon. The ship capsized near Fortune Island, Batangas bringing with it 70 lives.

- MV Asia South Korea, Dec. 23, 1999. The ship was en route to Cebu City when it hit rocks off Bantayan Island. Water gushed in the hole, which led to its sinking. Fifty-eight were killed.

- MV Maria Carmela, April 11, 2002. Fire broke out at the ship’s cargo vessel and even burned for 3 days before sinking near Pagbilao Island in Quezon. Thirty-nine people lost their lives.

- MV San Nicholas, May 25, 2003. MV San Nicholas collided with SuperFerry 12 near Limobones Point, Corregidor. While the SuperFerry didn’t suffer major damages, the San Nicholas sunk and with it, 43 lives.

- SuperFerry 14, February 27, 2004. The only shipping disaster as a result of a terrorist attack, the SuperFerry 14 was bombed by Abu Sayyaf terrorists resulting in the deaths of 94 people.

- MV Princess of the Stars, June 21, 2008. Despite its large size, the Princess of the Stars capsized after facing rough seas off the coast of Romblon. Four-hundred thirty-seven people died with 605 people missing.

- MBca Don Dexter, November 4, 2008. The motor banca capsized after its outrigger broke near Dimasalang, Masbate. Forty-two people died with 10 people missing.

- MBca Jen Mar, December 14, 2008. Another motor banca broke its outrigger though the boat was carrying past its passenger limit. Forty-seven people died as a result of the incident.

- MV St. Thomas Aquinas, August 16, 2013. MV St. Thomas Aquinas was headed for the port of Cebu when it struck MV Sulpicio Express Siete. The ship immediately began to sink. Within 30 minutes, the ship was underwater. One-hundred fourteen people perished with 23 missing.

Thursday 2 July 2015

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Tunisia identifies all 38 victims of beach terror attack, 30 British

All 38 victims of the Tunisian beach resort massacre have been formally identified, among them 30 Britons, the health ministry said Wednesday.

On Friday, 23-year-old student Seifeddine Rezgui went on a bloody rampage in Port El Kantaoui, shooting 38 foreigners with a Kalashnikov assault rifle at the popular resort’s five-star Riu Imperial Marhaba hotel.

“All the bodies have been identified. Among them are 30 Britons,” said the ministry’s director of emergency services, Naoufel Somrani.

Of the remaining victims, three were from Ireland, two from Germany and one each from Belgium, Portugal and Russia.

Britain was flying home Wednesday the bodies of eight nationals, with more repatriations expected in the coming days.

The three Irish victims were also set for repatriation Wednesday, the Tunisian health ministry said.

Friday’s death toll was the worst loss of life for Britain in a jihadist attack since the July 2005 bombings in London.

Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to back a full investigation, calling for “a response at home and abroad” to violent Islamic fundamentalism.

British police have also sent forensic experts to Tunisia to help local teams probing the attack.

The 25 British tourists who were wounded have already been flown home, while 4,000 terrified holidaymakers were repatriated at the weekend. Another 1,900 are due to return home in the coming days.

Wednesday 2 July 2015

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Lack of data on victims slows identification

The lack of available data on the passengers of the Hercules C-130 that crashed in Medan on Tuesday has slowed the process of victim identification.

“The challenges relate to our antemortem data, which deals with DNA, teeth, birthmarks and other identifying features of the victims,” the North Sumatra Police Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) team’s deputy chairman Sr. Comr. Didiet Setyobudi told The Jakarta Post at Adam Malik General Hospital on Wednesday.

Didiet said also that identification could not be conducted immediately due to the condition of many of the 141 bodies that were admitted to the hospital.

The DVI team was reported to have identified 71 of the 141 bodies thus far.

In order to speed up the identification process, Didiet has called on the families of the victims to come to the hospital to inform the team of the victims’ physical characteristics.

Didiet also said that seven members of the National Police’s DVI team had arrived to assist with the identification process.

Head of North Sumatra Police DVI’s team, Adj. Sr. Comr. Zulkhairi, said the number of body bags and the number the victims were indeed different.

“So far we cannot discern the total number of victims because some bags contain only parts of a body,” he said.

Among the family members helping to identify loved ones was Sahat Sihombing, who held pictures of his two daughters, Ester and Rita, who were killed in the crash.

“They were students at junior high school and senior high school in Medan,” said Sahat, who is a soldier on Natuna island, Riau Islands.

He added that his daughters were on board as they wanted to meet him on the island during the holidays.

Meanwhile, heavy equipment and hundreds of personnel from the military and the police continue the process of recovering bodies at the crash site on Jl. Jamin Ginting, Simalingkar, Medan.

Commander of the Bukit Barisan Regional Military Command, Maj. Gen. Edy Rahmayadi, said the military had deployed four companies to help speed up the recovery process.

Meanwhile, the bodies of 12 Air Force personnel who were crew members of the ill-fated plane, and one civilian, have been sent to their respective villages from the Soewondo Air Base in Medan, North Sumatra, on Wednesday.

A military ceremony was held at the air base for the sending home of the bodies, led by Air Force Chief Marshal Agus Supriatna.

“We have prepared a number of aircraft at the Soewondo Air Base to transport the bodies. We will transport all the bodies, no matter how many, as the identification process at the Adam Malik hospital progresses,” Agus said.

On Wednesday, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo led a ceremony to receive the bodies of crash victims at the Halim Perdanakusuma Air Base in Jakarta.

Meanwhile, families of Second Sgt. Joko Purwanto of Ngrampal, Sragen, Central Java, and of Chief Sgt. Sutrisno of Nogosari, Boyolali, Central Java, who were among the victims, were shocked upon hearing the news of the crash.

Parman, Joko’s uncle, said his newphew’s last contact with his family was made on early Tuesday after the sahur predawn meal.

Parman said Joko sent a text message asking for his parents’ prayers for the smooth performance of his duty.

Thursday 2 July 2015

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Indonesia to call off search for victims in deadly military plane crash

Indonesian authorities will call off a two-day search for victims on Thursday after a military transport plane crashed into a residential area in Sumatra, killing around 140 people, the military said.

The Hercules C-130B was carrying 122 passengers when it crashed into houses in the northern city of Medan shortly after takeoff on Tuesday, killing all on board and more on the ground.

“We have not found any bodies since yesterday, so hopefully, we will be able to finish the search-and-rescue operation today,” military spokesman Fuad Basya said.

Basya said 135 people were confirmed dead, although Indonesian media reported on Thursday at least 141 bodies had been recovered from the crash site.

The incident is the latest in a string of aviation disasters to hit Indonesia and prompted President Joko Widodo to order a review of its ageing air force fleet. The type of plane that crashed in Medan went into service half a century ago.

The Indonesian air force has now lost four C-130Bs, a model that forms the backbone of its transport fleet. Jakarta has grounded its remaining eight C-130Bs until investigators discover the cause of the crash.

The crash could spur Southeast Asia’s largest country to boost military spending, currently the lowest in the region at just 0.8 percent of GDP.

“The incident in Medan shows that the military’s transport equipment needs to be renewed soon,” parliamentarian T.B. Hasanuddin told reporters.

“We advise the government to buy newer aircraft rather than used ones even if they are more expensive,” he said.

Some victims’ families said passengers, many of whom are believed to have been civilians, had paid to get on the flight, which was headed to Tanjung Pinang in Riau Islands off Sumatra.

The air force has denied the allegations and said it will investigate any possible breach of rules.

Last December, an AirAsia passenger jet crashed en route from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore, killing all 162 people on board.

Thursday 2 July 2015

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Dozens killed after packed Philippine ferry capsizes

At least 36 people were killed after a wooden passenger ferry with close to 200 people on board capsized in rough waters in the central Philippines on Thursday, officials said.

The Kim Nirvana was heading from the central city of Ormoc to the island of Camotes when it capsized.

Rescue boats picked up dozens of survivors who clung to the overturned hull of the vessel, one kilometre from Ormoc port on Leyte island, Ciriaco Tolibao from the city's disaster risk reduction and management office told AFP.

Divers were scouring the murky waters searching for survivors from the inside of the ship, he said. But low visibility, clouds, a choppy sea and strong winds are hampering the rescue operation at the site where the ferry capsized.

Richard Gordon, chairman of the Philippine Red Cross, told The Associated Press at 4pm Bangkok time that the air force could not operate in those conditions. He said additional divers could not fly in because of the bad weather.

At least 53 survivors were brought to the hospital while more than two dozen others walked home after the mishap, Mr Tolibao told AFP.

The Associated Press reported that among the 173 passengers were at least three Americans and a Canadian.

Lawrence Drake, 48 of New York, said he was able to revive a woman who wasn't breathing while they were in the water via mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

He said he is a retired firefighter and emergency medical technician. He says he also saved an 8-year-old boy and the woman's pregnant daughter. He said he saw at least seven bodies floating in the water, including two children.

Mr Drake is married to a Filipina. His wife was travelling with him from Ormoc to Camotes along with her mother. They, too, survived by swimming out of the boat after it overturned.

Mr Tolibao could not immediately say how many others were missing but a report on Manila radio said at least 21 people were unaccounted for.

The wooden boat, which had 173 passengers and 16 crew on its manifest, overturned just 30 minutes after leaving the port after it encountered big waves, Mr Tolibao said.

"We're scouring the ship for more survivors who may be trapped inside the hull," he said. "We hope to finish the rescue before dark and before it starts to rain."

Survivors told AP by mobile phone that the bow of the ferry suddenly rose from the waters before the vessel flipped over on one side and began to sink near the port of Ormoc.

Leyte was ravaged by Super Typhoon Haiyan which struck in November 2013, leaving more than 7,350 people dead or missing.

The disaster-plagued Philippines is hit by about 20 typhoons and storms hit each year, many of them deadly.

Poorly-maintained, loosely-regulated ferries are the backbone of maritime travel in the sprawling archipelago.

But this has led to frequent accidents that have claimed hundreds of lives in recent years, including the world's worst peacetime maritime disaster in 1987 when the Dona Paz ferry collided with an oil tanker, leaving more than 4,300 dead.

Thursday 2 July 2015

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Darjeeling landslide: Rescue operations underway

Rescue and relief operations continued in full swing in the landslide wrecked Darjeeling hills of West Bengal on Thursday with at least 12 people still missing, officials said.

The state administration has confirmed recovering 30 bodies so far from the landslides triggered by incessant rainfall since Tuesday.

Besides the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), personnel from the state disaster management and administration are working at a war footing to rescue and provide relief to the affected.

As per our estimates, at least 12 people are still missing and are feared to be dead.

"The rescue operations are continuing on full swing but as of now we have not found any more bodies. Till Wednesday, 30 bodies were recovered," district disaster management official Anindya Sarkar said.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday announced a compensation of Rs four lakh each to the families of the deceased.

About compensation for the landslide-affected, Banerjee said, "We have announced Rs 4 lakh compensation for each of the families of those who have passed away." "Administration is working round the clock to complete all procedures to hand over bodies of the victims to their families for their last rites, for which assistance is being provided by the local administration," Banerjee said in post.

Meanwhile, a fresh landslide near Gayabari has put in uncertainty West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's scheduled visit to Mirik the worst affected area accounting for 22 deaths alone.

Banerjee reached New Jalpaiguri on Wednesday night to supervise the relief and rescue work.

Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju is also in the region to take stock of the situation.

Many of the survivors put up in the relief shelters complained of lack of drinking water and food.

The met department has forecast widespread and heavy rainfall to continue in the region for the next 48 hours.

Large parts of Jalpaiguri district are already submerged affecting over 5,000 people. The administration has issued a red alert with rivers flowing over the danger mark.

Thursday 2 July 2015

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