Monday, 30 January 2012

DNA analyzers to be installed at 4 police HQs

The National Police Agency has decided to install automatic DNA analyzers at four prefectural police headquarters offices to speed up the process of identifying victims in cases of large-scale disasters, NPA officials said Sunday.

The automatic analyzers, which can examine a massive number of DNA samples, will be introduced by the local police in Hokkaido, Saitama, Osaka and Fukuoka by the end of March after work had to be done to conduct a large amount of DNA analysis in the wake of last year's disaster.

The ability of the four analyzers roughly matches that of the existing analyzer at the National Research Institute of Police Science in Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture.

OSAKA, Jan. 29, Kyodo

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Saturday, 28 January 2012

26 die in Peru rehab fire

(CNN) -- Twenty-six people were killed and 15 were rescued from a fire at a rehabilitation center in Lima, Peru, the state-run Andina news agency reported.

The fire was controlled by firefighters by Saturday afternoon.

The cause of the fire was under investigation, the fire department said, though witnesses said a mattress was set on fire during a melee inside the building.

The victims were trapped inside the building and died from asphyxiation, Peru's fire chief, Antonio Zavala said.

The building may have been a clandestine rehabilitation center, and many people were concentrated on the first floor, which lacked escape routes, Zavala said.

Some 40 people were housed in a small space with only one exit that was locked with a chain. Bypassing the heavy metal door was the biggest challenge in the rescue, he said.

January 28, 2012 - CNN

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Woman's body found in wrecked Italy cruise ship

Rome (CNN) -- A woman's body was found Saturday in the wrecked Costa Concordia cruise ship, Italian officials said, taking the number of people confirmed dead to 17.

Rescuers have been searching the site since the massive liner struck rocks and rolled onto its side in shallow waters off an island on Italy's Tuscan coast on January 13, leading to a panicked overnight evacuation. At least 15 people remain missing.

Efforts to remove 2,400 tons of fuel from the liner's tanks have been postponed until at least Tuesday because of bad weather conditions, Italy's civil protection agency said. The operation had been expected to begin Saturday or Sunday.

Franco Gabrielli, who is heading the rescue operation for the civil protection agency, said Friday that 14 of the bodies found had been identified.

The discovery of a 17th body came a day after a handful of surviving passengers of the wrecked Costa Concordia cruise ship filed a lawsuit against the cruise line.

Lawsuit filed in deadly cruise crash Training for maritime disasters Concordia captain admits 'mistake' Couple filmed chaos on cruise ship. Earlier, Costa had announced it was offering each of about 3,200 passengers who'd been aboard the vessel a lump sum of 11,000 euros ($14,400), in compensation for their loss of property and emotional distress, as well as a refund of costs associated with the cruise.

January 28, 2012 - CNN

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Uruguay to Pay $513,000 Settlement in Rights Case

Uruguay's president has approved a $513,000 payment to Macarena Gelman, who was illegally adopted during the dictatorship after her mother was tortured and disappeared.

The payment complies with an Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling that accuses Uruguay of delaying justice for crimes committed by its dictatorship in the 1970s, according to a brief statement posted Tuesday on the presidency's website.

Gelman's parents were kidnapped in Argentina and taken to a torture center notorious for being a nexus of Operation Condor, the effort by South America's U.S.-supported dictatorships to combine forces and eliminate opponents in each other's countries.

Her father was then killed and her pregnant mother spirited to Uruguay, where she disappeared after giving birth in a military hospital.

Decades passed before Macarena Gelman learned her true identity, as the granddaughter of renowned Argentine poet Juan Gelman.

Macarena Gelman now works for Argentina's human rights agency. She declined to comment Tuesday on recieving the award from President Jose Mujica, and said she doesn't know if an ongoing study of human remains found inside an Uruguayan military facility has turned up any links to her missing mother.

About 30 people disappeared in Uruguay under the 1973-1985 dictatorship. In neighboring Argentina, more than 150 Uruguayans were killed as part of Operation Condor. Leftist Tupamaro guerrillas also had committed violent crimes, including 57 killings, according to a military tally, after taking up arms in 1963 against democratically elected governments. Many of the guerrillas died in confrontations or served long prison terms, including Mujica, a former Tupamaro who spent more than a decade behind bars.

Juan Gelman won the 2007 Cervantes Prize, the most prestigious award for Spanish-language literature. A journalist and left-wing political activist as well as a poet, he broke with the Communist Party and later with Argentina's Montoneros guerrillas over their violent tactics.

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay January 25, 2012 (AP)

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Unidentified bodies at police depot

SEVERAL graves of unidentified people have been discovered at Ntabazinduna Police Training Depot in Matabeleland North.Police said yesterday they were making efforts to identify the remains with the view of locating relatives. They said they were not sure of the number of graves at the two sites at the training depot since some were not visible.

Some of the graves were first discovered in 2004 when the ZRP took over the area from the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture (now the Ministry of Youth Development, Indigenisation and Empowerment).

It was still not clear whether some parts of the sites have mass graves.
Speaking to the Governor for Matabeleland North Thokozile Mathuthu, Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri, Chief Neville Ndondo and acting Chief Ndiweni, the depot assistant commandant Superintendent Ben Chabata said they decided to protect the graves by fencing the two sites.
"As a cultured organisation, we decided that the areas be fenced to protect them from people and animals which graze in the area," he said.
"As of now we don't know how many graves there are."

Supt Chabata said they wanted to work with local leaders and the community to help in identifying the people buried in the graves.

He said they decided to plant trees near the graves to provide shade.Governor Mathuthu said people buried at the sites should be identified. She applauded the police for protecting the graves. "I feel very proud that we have a team of leaders. We want to thank them," she said.

Saturday, 28 January 2012 00:00
Freeman Razemba

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Mass graves discovered in ZRP training centres

MASS graves have been identified in police training centers, it has been reported. The camps were previously used for national youth service.

The development was revealed by Matabeleland North governor Thokozile Mathuthu at a police pass-out parade in Ntabazinduna Police Training Depot, 32km north east of Bulawayo, on Thursday.

Superintendent Ben Chabata, the second in command at the training centre, asked the governor for resources to help identify who lies in the graves. He did not say when the discovery was made.

Superintendent Chabata said they had identified two mass graves, which they had fenced off, but said police had no idea how many people were buried there. Police also had no means of determining how old the graves were.

“After the discovery of the graves, and in an effort to build relations with the local community, we invited the local chief to come and view the place after we fenced it off,” Sup. Chataba said.

“It is our wish as the Zimbabwe Republic Police to identify who lies in these graves and resources permitting we can put name tags on the graves.”

The ZRP opened the training centre in 2004, taking over the site from the Ministry of Youth Development which was using it as a base for a controversial national youth service programme.

The youth service programme was condemned by opposition parties and human rights groups who accused President Robert Mugabe’s government of brainwashing youths, training them in torture and then unleashing them to brutalise opponents during election campaigns.

Appearing slightly shaken, governor Mathuthu ordered the district administrator, Ennety Sithole, to chair a meeting between the police, traditional leaders and medical experts to work out a programme of exhuming and identifying the remains.

She told Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri: “I am very grateful to you and your local commanders for fencing these graves off, and providing shade. That shows an appreciation for our culture and respect for the dead.”

The Matabeleland region has hundreds of mass graves from the post-independence military crackdown by President Robert Mugabe, ostensibly to flush out a dozen armed dissident supporters of ZAPU leader, Joshua Nkomo.

Human rights groups say a special army unit called the 5 Brigade, trained by North Korea and reporting directly to Mugabe, indiscriminately killed civilians between 1983 and 1987, leaving more than 20,000 people dead and thousands more wounded or displaced.

In October last year, authorities at a school in Lupane reported finding a large grave with up to 60 skeletal remains of people feared killed during the crackdown known as Gukurahundi.

Shocked pupils saw bones sticking out of the ground when a football pitch caved in. The school was used by the 5 Brigade as a detention centre during its reign of terror.


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Friday, 27 January 2012

Katyn families want remains brought back to Poland

Relatives of Polish officers murdered at Katyn in 1940 by the Soviet secret police (NKVD) have asked the Polish foreign ministry to request Russian authorites return their remains from Russia.

Witomiła Wolk-Jezierska, Wanda Rodowicz, Krystyna Krzyszkowiak, Stanislaw Drabczyński and several others want their relatives' remains returned from where they are buried at Katyn and Miednoje, in present-day Belarus.

The daily Rzeczpospolita reports that they sent a letter to foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski to this effect at the end of December.

“I want finally to bury my father, lieutenant Wincent Wolk, in Poland. The state has an obligation to its own citizens and should help me,” Wolk-Jezierska told the daily.
She says it is known exactly where her father is buried, at so-called Mogile IV in Katyn, a fact that was established when the German first exhumed the mass graves in 1943.

The Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) started its investigation in to the Katyn crimes in 2004. Prosecutor Malgorzata Kuzniar-Plota, undertaking the research for the IPN, says any decision on an exhumation will need to be taken by the Russian prosecutor.

"This is a sovereign decision of the Russian side,” she said, adding that an exhumation could only go ahead if the Russian side reopens the case, which was conducted between 1990 and 2004. (jh/nh)


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U.S troops killed in action have a last ally

Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii (CNN) -- There is a skull here, hundreds of fragments of bones there. Table after table is lined with human remains. One holds a near-complete skeleton, another has hundreds of tiny pieces of bone that could come from many different people. Together, it tells the story of life and death in the military.

At the world's largest skeletal identification laboratory more than 30 forensic anthropologists, archaeologists and dentists of Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command are working to put names to the remains.

Based at Hickam Air Force Base -- site of the Pearl Harbor attack -- in Honolulu, Hawaii, JPAC is made up of all branches of the U.S. military and civilian scientists, united in the goal of bringing back all 84,000 U.S. service members who went missing during war or military action.
The unit researches old war records and combs battle sites and aircraft crash sites in some of the most remote locations around the world.

Any recovered remains are brought back to JPAC's Central Identification Laboratory.
The mission is to bring answers to families who may have been waiting 60 years or more to hear anything about a loved one. They call it the most honorable mission in the military.

"I've been all over the world from Korea to South Africa, East Asia to South America and then, of course, in Iraq and my job is to defeat the enemy. I am proud of that," says Lt. Col. Raul Gonzalez, who works at JPAC managing 18 teams who search for remains.

"This job, though, has been one of the more healing jobs in a sense that instead of doing what I am normally planning on doing and training to do, I'm bringing people back together, bringing families back together, bringing closure and it is truly, deep down inside, one of the most rewarding experiences."

Dr. Robert Mann, a forensic anthropologist at CIL and head of the forensic science academy there. "The task is daunting. It's incredibly complicated. It goes to the peaks of the Himalayas, it goes to the jungles of Southeast Asia. It goes to the oceans of the Pacific. So from the highest point to the lowest point on the earth, we're looking for missing Americans."
The mission can start in many different ways, possibly a tip from a veteran who remembers where he lost a fellow soldier during a hectic battle, or even from someone finding remains while digging in their yard.

Most of the time, investigations begin with a researcher or historian who searches military records known as Individual Deceased Personnel Files.

The files include information about where a service member was lost and how that person may have died. It's the researcher's role to figure out if there is enough evidence to search a site.
"We'll look at all the evidence and say is it going to be worth it to actually go to the site?" explains historian Andrew Speelhoffer. "And if it is, the next time we're in that country, we'll put that on the list. And we'll go to the site and we'll locate and question any witnesses."
"I think one of the most interesting parts of my job is just learning these cases individually," Speelhoffer says. "I think one of the things about World War II is just the size of it, just the numbers you're talking about. We're missing upwards of 74,000 Americans.

"When you're dealing with those kinds of numbers, it's really interesting to look at these cases on an individual basis and learn little bits, little tidbits of information about these guys. You know, where they were from, what particular mission they were on, that kind of thing."
"I think one of the things about World War II is just the size of it, just the numbers you're talking about. We're missing upwards of 74,000 Americans."

Once a site is approved, an investigation team interviews possible witnesses and does a preliminary search of the grounds. If they find enough evidence that remains are present a recovery team is sent back to the site to dig for remains.

Recovery sites can be grueling. Wars are often fought far away from the comforts of home, and the recovery teams sometimes camp at a dig site for up to 60 days. The end result -- finding a service member who'd been lost for decades -- makes it all worthwhile.

"I got here in 1992 and about the first five years I was in the jungles," Mann says, who with other anthropologists and archaeologists goes on recovery missions as well as working in the lab.

"I went native. I got out there and I didn't want to come back because it was so exciting. It was such an invigorating thing and I felt as though I was doing something really good to bring home these missing Americans.

"Once you do this, you get the bug, you realize what your contribution can be to science, what your contribution can be to the United States. And to these guys and gals who served and gave everything.

"I feel as though this is something that I can give back to those folks who served and to those families who are out there still that are looking for answers. I think it is the most exciting thing anybody could ever do."

Mann has been on digs with veterans who return to the site of terrifying battles to help them figure out where to find lost soldiers.

And when remains are brought back to CIL, Mann is one of the anthropologists trying to put a name to the remains -- a very long and intense process.

The work begins by identifying sex, age at death, racial or ancestral background, how tall the individual was, and what kind of trauma the person received.
Mann explains the process, starting with first knowing where the remains were recovered. "So you've narrowed it down geographically. Then you end up with say 20 individuals that are missing within a 20-mile radius of where these remains were recovered.
"And we're going to keep searching, we're going to keep trying, and we're not going to give up on these guys and gals who are missing."

"You've now got it down to 20 individuals. And now the biology, the anthropology is going to say "well this is a 20-24 year old white male." You've narrowed it down again. How tall is he? He's about 5'8 to 5'9. And you can see you keep narrowing and narrowing and narrowing it to where you get it down to where the dental says, it is this individual right here."

Dental records, when they're available, are often the key to making a final identification.
Lt. Col. Lisa Franklin is a forensic odontologist -- a dentist who compares dental remains to dental records to make an identification.

"If a body is found and there are different types of dental restorations in the mouth -- say a metal crown, maybe a white filling, a composite filling or a resin filling -- those are very unique things in individual mouths and it sets them apart from somebody else who does not have those things in their teeth. So the dental profile can be very unique to one individual."

But not all remains include the jaw or teeth, which is why the scientists at CIL are constantly looking for new technology. Another identification technique is comparing mitochondrial DNA found in bones -- not the same type that can be extracted through saliva or blood -- to DNA extracted from a maternal lineage.

The scientists are also testing out a new way to use the old method of photo superimposition. Using two cameras -- one on a photograph, the other on a skull -- they are trying to determine the accuracy of layering a photo over a skull to make identifications.
It is a mission this unit says it will never tire of.

"Technology changes, technology evolves and gets better," says Mann. "So what we can't do today with this one little piece of bone, we might be able to do tomorrow with DNA.
"And we're going to keep searching, we're going to keep trying, and we're not going to give up on these guys and gals who are missing."

By Misty Showalter, CNN, January 26, 2012

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Brazil search of collapsed buildings intensifies; 7 dead

Sao Paulo (CNN) -- Brazilian rescuers intensified their search for victims in the rubble of three collapsed buildings in Rio de Janeiro Friday, though they are yet to find any survivors.
Seven bodies have been recovered and 20 people are reported missing, the Rio de Janeiro fire department said, according to the state-run Agencia Brasil news agency.

It was not immediately clear what caused the collapse of a 20-story building and adjacent 10- and 4-story buildings on Wednesday night. Officials said they were investigating both the possibility of a gas leak and a structural failure.

Sergio Cabral, the governor of Rio de Janeiro state, declared three days of mourning for the victims.

The city's medical examiner's office has begun identifying the victims.
Among those who died in the collapse was Cornelio Ribeiro Lopes, 73, who was the doorman for one of the buildings, Agencia Brasil reported. He lived there with his wife, Margarida Vieira de Carvalho, who is among the missing, the agency reported.

The crews at the scene were intensifying their search efforts Friday, according to Agencia Brasil.Rescuers said that one of the biggest challenges in finding people was the dust cloud that floats in the area.

The accident came at a delicate time for Rio de Janeiro as the city prepares to host the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games two years later.

January 27, 2012

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Thursday, 26 January 2012

Sixty feared dead as entire village wiped out in Papua New Guinea landslide

Sixty people are missing and feared dead after an entire village was wiped out in a landslide in the Commonwealth country of Papua New Guinea.

The flimsy village homes made of palm fronds and sticks were crushed by boulders the size of cars as the landslide destroyed an area more than half a mile long and up to 40 yards wide last night.

Former MP Sir Alfred Kaibe, pleading for foreign aid to help survivors, said: 'This is a tragedy of a magnitude the nation hasn't seen before.
Villagers today search the site of a landslide that struck villages in the Southern Highlands mountainous region of central Papua New Guinea

Villagers today search the site of a landslide that struck villages in the Southern Highlands mountainous region of central Papua New Guinea

The aftermath of a landslide, which wiped out an entire village, is seen in this aerial picture taken in Nogoli, Papua New Guinea

The aftermath of a landslide, which wiped out an entire village, is seen in this aerial picture taken in Nogoli, Papua New Guinea

'Those who have been displaced will need food, emergency supplies and tents.'

Rescue workers were today making their way to the remote region in the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea, which lies to the north of Australia.

Continuing heavy rain has hampered rescued efforts - and added to fears that another landslide will follow.

Local people have blamed blasting from nearby quarries which sent hundreds of tons of earth crashing down on the village of Tumbi.

Last night thousands of people from nearby villages made their way to the disaster zone, many with faces smeared with mud as a sign of mourning.

Andrew Alphonse, a reporter from the Post Courier newspaper, said locals have already named 26 people they believe have been killed but the death toll is expected to rise dramatically to more than double.

He said: 'Rescue workers haven't been able to retrieve the bodies because of the difficult conditions.

'The engineers and the National Emergency teams from Port Moresby, they've moved into the area today and they'll access the site around there.

'And then from there they'll do some studies on how they can go about picking up the bodies..It is such a huge task.'

Local MP Francis Potape, describing the devastation as widespread, told of harrowing scenes.

He said: 'You have a mother crying on the site, a father crying, people crying - those are the ones who are sure that their relatives are buried in there and have died.'

Locals are blaming quarrying work being carried out at the US-owned Exxon-Mobil liquefied natural gas project.

Despite the disaster, a company spokeswoman said work had resumed at the £10 billion project near the landslide disaster.

By Richard Shears
26th January 2012

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High-rise buildings collapse in Rio de Janeiro

Two buildings - one nearly 20 storeys high - have collapsed in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, filling streets with masonry and covering cars with debris.

Officials say up to 11 people are believed to be inside the buildings and five people have been rescued.

The cause of the collapse remains unclear, but witnesses spoke of an explosion and a strong smell of gas.

City Mayor Eduardo Paes said that they were focusing on rescue efforts before looking into the incident's cause.

According to the BBC's Paulo Cabral, rescue workers were able to pull a cleaner from inside one of the elevators in the rubble after he managed to call a friend on his mobile phone.

The buildings - located near the Municipal Theatre and the headquarters of oil giant Petrobras - crushed a four-storey construction site on their way down.

The area surrounding the buildings is now covered in rubble, with several cars partially covered by debris.

Dozens of emergency workers are at the scene and police have cordoned off the area, our correspondent adds.

'Like an earthquake'

Electricity to the street has been cut off for safety reasons.

One witness, who identified himself as Gilbert, told Reuters news agency: "It was like an earthquake. First some pieces of the buildings started to fall down. People started to run. And then it all fell down at once."

The incident comes a little over three months after a suspected gas explosion at a restaurant in the city left three people dead.

Concerns have been raised about the state of Rio de Janeiro's infrastructure as Brazil prepares to host football's World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games two years later.

26 January 2012

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Batang Kali relatives edge closer to the truth about 'Britain's My Lai massacre'

Lawyers representing relatives of 24 unarmed victims who died at Batang Kali, Malaysia, in December 1948 have finally been provided with key Foreign Office correspondence about past investigations and Cabinet Office guidance on when inquiries should be held.

Even Buckingham Palace has been pulled into the furore surrounding the fate of the villagers, who were rounded up on a large rubber-tapping estate in the colonial government's counter-insurgency operation against communists, known historically as the Malayan Emergency.

A petition to the Queen about the deaths has been handed to the British high commissioner in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, and the royal household has replied. The palace, however, has declined to release the text of the letter.

The Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence have always insisted the villagers were shot while trying to escape detention. The incident has been described by some as the "British My Lai massacre", after the US troop killings in Vietnam.

The Malaysian relatives' hopes have been boosted by a group of Kenyan survivors, mostly now in their 80s, who won the right last summer to sue the British government for damages over claims of torture during the 1950s Mau Mau uprising. A judicial review of the government's repeated refusal to hold a public inquiry into the alleged massacre at Batang Kali is likely to be heard in the spring.

The Foreign Office has refused, so far, to release any additional documents from its still unreleased colonial-era archive. The depository at Hanslope Park, near Milton Keynes, contains thousands of files not yet handed over to the National Archives.

Previously unseen evidence of atrocities from Kenya did eventually emerge from the Foreign Office store, but the Malaysian files have so far remained closed despite repeated requests. The Foreign Office has promised to review the material, although it says it will take time.

Much of what occurred in Batang Kali is agreed. On 11 December 1948, a patrol of Scots Guards surrounded and entered the village, which lies north of the capital. The male villagers were separated. That evening, one of the men was shot by soldiers; the next day a further 23 died. None of the victims were armed and no weapons were found before the killings.

Some of the Scots Guards involved in the incident approached a Sunday newspaper in the 1970s with accounts that disputed the official version of a thwarted escape. Scotland Yard detectives subsequently interviewed the men but were prevented from flying out to Malaysia.

Solicitors have, unusually, been given access to the police files. Soldiers have also been contacted again by the lawyers but none is expected to give evidence unless a public inquiry is ordered.

John Halford, of Bindmans solicitors in London, who is representing the Batang Kali families, said: "We are not asking for anyone to be prosecuted. The surviving soldiers are too old for it to be considered appropriate. But the families want the state to take responsibility for the actions. It's necessary to get to the bottom of what happened. Extrajudicial executions by British troops have not ceased. There are recent examples [Iraq]. These are people who have been wronged and had no remedy at all.

"There should be some resolution. These were extrajudicial killings of civilians that were pre-planned. The Dutch government has now agreed to pay families from Indonesia reparations for a colonial-era massacre that occurred around the same time, in 1947.

"Although [government] solicitors have confirmed that there is material relating to Batang Kali in their secret archives, they say it's not relevant. They won't let us look at it. There was an announcement that it would be publicly accessible, but that commitment hasn't been honoured."

The Foreign Office said: "This event happened over 60 years ago. Accounts of what happened conflict and virtually all the witnesses are dead. In these circumstances it is very unlikely a public inquiry could come up with recommendations which would help to prevent any recurrence."

The FO added: "The families of those who died have chosen to take legal action to challenge this decision and so it would be inappropriate to comment further now that legal proceedings are under way."

On the question of making public the relevant files at the Hanslope Park archives, it said: "The Foreign Office … holds 8,800 files from 37 former British administrations, including Malaya. The government plans to make as much of this material as possible available to the wider public, and has confirmed that the files will be reviewed. This review process may take some time."

Owen Bowcott, Wednesday 25 January 2012

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Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Spanish families unearth their civil war dead

GERENA, Spain, Jan 24 (BSS/AFP) - The old people of the village still remember hearing the screams and gunshots through the olive trees of the cemetery one evening in 1937, at the height of Spain's civil war.

Seventeen women, relatives of people on the Republican side, were shot by the forces of Francisco Franco and tipped straight into a mass grave.

Now, 74 years on, their bodies are being exhumed so that their descendants can bury them properly.

In a dark coincidence, the exhumation began on Monday, on the eve of the start of the trial of Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon who is accused of breaking an amnesty by investigating just such atrocities in the Franco era.

"It's paradoxical to say the least. It's also incomprehensible," said Lucia Socam, 25, whose great-aunt Granada Hidalgo was among the women buried in the mass grave.

"They're going to try Judge Garzon for precisely this, for wanting to shed light on these crimes, which were crimes of humanity, so that justice could be done for the victims."

Maria Jose Dominguez, 45, holds a photograph of her grandmother, Manuela Mendez Jimenez, a young blonde woman in a beret, from the neighbouring village of Guillena.

She was a 25-year-old mother of two working in an olive- processing factory when local pro-Franco leaders arrested her, sheared off her hair and locked her in the village prison.

Later they trucked her to Gerena with 16 other women, aged up to 70, all accused of links to members of the Republican cause fighting against the revolt launched by Franco a year earlier.

In the cemetery there they were gunned down and cast into the grave.

Villagers heard "screams and lots of shots", says Manuela's grandson, Manolo Dominguez, 47.

Then for decades there was silence.

As Spain moved to democracy following nearly 40 years under Franco, an amnesty was agreed in 1977, two years after his death, which ruled out airing the bloody events of the war and dictatorship in the courts.

In Gerena, Manolo and his sister were the first to break the code of silence over the events of the war. They launched a search more than a decade ago for the bodies of their grandmother and those killed with her.

"We just want to give them a dignified burial," said Maria Jose.

Other families joined their search in 2005. Their efforts received a boost from a law on "historical memory" passed in 2007 by the then Socialist government, aimed at recognising the victims of the Franco era.

But public funding for the search was still not forthcoming, so volunteer archaeologists from the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory, a campaign group, helped with the excavations.

"It is we, the families, who have to go with pick and shovel to search for our dead," said Socam.

The families questioned survivors from the time of the killings to locate the grave and lobbied to gain authorisation to dig for it, defying complaints from fellow villagers who accused them of opening past wounds.

"It has been a hard road," said Maria Jose.

The former Socialist government published a map last year showing the site of 2,000 suspected graves of people killed during the civil war and dictatorship.

The association says there are many more graves and that 5,000 bodies have been dug up from such sites over the past decade.

Garzon stands accused of breaching the amnesty agreement by ordering investigations between 2006 and 2008 into the disappearances of 114,000 people.

He argues they were victims of crimes against humanity, not subject to the amnesty.

"He is the only person who has dared to take on the crimes of fascism" in Spain, said Marie Jose Dominguez. "It is unjust. They
should try those who deserve to be tried."

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Nigeria terror victims given mass burial

Abuja: Bodies of victims who lost their lives in the coordinated terror attacks in northern Nigeria were given mass burial on Wednesday at the village of Kalebawa on the outskirts of Kano city.

Identified bodies were given to the bereaved families while those unidentified were conveyed from Murtala Mohammed Specialist Hospital mortuary to the burial site.

Sources at Murtala Mohammed Hospital informed that over 50 bodies were carried in two vehicles for burial after the traditional ruler of Kano Emir Ado Bayero had led other emirs on a sympathy visit to the hospital.

Earlier, the police gave a breakdown of death toll saying 150 civilians, 29 officers of the police, three members of the country's secret State Security Service, two officers of the immigrations' service and a customs officer were killed.

The toll now stands at 185 though medical and humanitarian workers say the number may increase as more bodies are brought into hospital mortuaries.

Meanwhile, at least 15 explosions were heard on Wednesday from an area where there is police station, residents said, adding that the explosions were followed by gunshots.

A night time curfew remains in place even as the police launched a massive search operation for members of Boko Haram Islamic sect that claimed responsibility for the wave of attacks on Friday.

Nigerian police on Tuesday impounded eight vehicles loaded with improvised explosives in the city where 185 people, including an Indian, were killed in coordinated attacks.
Indian Kevalkumar Kalidas Rajput and his two Nepalese colleagues Hari Prasad Bhusal and Raj Singh were among the people killed by the radical Islamist group Boko Haram.

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A human body dug up from a mass grave in Ivory Coast

A male body was exhumed in one of the mass graves found in Yopougon district of Abidjan. It is still not known how many bodies there are in the graves. Locals residents claim the bodies are from a shooting spree.

Local residents say the victims were killed when gunmen loyal to former president Laurent Gbagbo attacked supporters of the country's new president, Alassane Ouattara.

Ivory Coast's state prosecutor, Koffi Kouadio who was present confirmed that there are many mass graves in Yopougon district with bodies waiting to be exhumed but he would not give more details.

More than 3000 people were killed during the four months of political arrest in Ivory Coast. Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

25th January 2012

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Remains of 23 people found in Turkey mass grave

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey — Turkish authorities found the remains of 23 people in a mass grave in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey on the former site of military police headquarters, Anatolia news agency reported Wednesday.

The first remains were discovered earlier this month, during an archeological dig in Ickale, in central Diyarbakir, where ruins of an ancient palace dating back to the 13th century were being excavated.

The area had been the site of a military police headquarters until the early 2000s. The eventual aim of the excavation is to carry out restoration work and turn the place into a museum and culture spot.

Human rights activists claim the remains belong to civilian Kurds killed by security forces during 1990s.

"Skulls and other bones belonging to humans were found here... According to what we saw they were piled up in a narrow place... They were apparently thrown there casually, without any religious ceremony," Agriculture Minister Mehdi Eker told reporters earlier this week, after visiting the site.

The Diyarbakir branch of the Human Rights Association (IHD) and 36 families whose relatives went missing during 1990s filed a criminal complaint on Wednesday against state officials of the time and asked for DNA tests for identification.

Around 45,000 people have died since the mid-1980s when the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) took up arms for a self-ruled homeland in southeast Turkey.

Remains of 190 bodies have been found in 29 different mass graves in more than 10 provinces in southeast Turkey, according to IHD's Diyarbakir branch.

The association estimates that more than 3,000 people are buried in 224 different mass graves in the region.

25 January 2012

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Remains of child tsunami victim identified and returned to family

The remains of a five-year-old boy who died in the March 11 tsunami have been identified and were returned to surviving relatives on Jan. 24.

The boy was the only known pre-grade school victim of either Miyagi or Fukushima prefectures who was still unidentified.

According to Miyagi Prefectural Police, the boy's body was found off the coast of Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, in late April. Since June, the boy's ashes were being kept at Myokoin temple in Yamamoto, Miyagi Prefecture, where the head temple priest and nearby residents left toys and picture books as gifts.

Miyagi Prefectural Police say that there were 12 requests from parents and other relatives for DNA comparisons against the boy's remains, and the 12th test came out a match, based on DNA test records of the mother, who also died in the disaster. The boy's ashes were returned to his grandparents and will be buried by his mother's ashes.

Ryushin Miyabe, 29, a priest at Myokoin, said, "It's good that the ashes were returned to where they were meant to be. From now on, his ashes can be prayed for by name."

The grandparents released a comment saying, "Our grandchild, whose identification we had been waiting anxiously for, has returned to us. We would like to express our thanks." The child's name has been withheld by will of the grandparents.

Myokoin still holds the ashes of another unidentified disaster victim. Miyabe says, "There are still many victims who are unidentified, and I hope they can be returned like the boy was."

According to Miyagi Prefectural Police, of the around 1,800 residents still unaccounted for from the disaster, 423 are unidentified remains. Police are continuing to try to identify the remains with DNA tests and other methods.

(Mainichi Japan) January 25, 2012

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Trio of Hungarian fraudsters arrested after they 'tried to use Costa Concordia disaster to fake death of woman'

Three alleged fraudsters have been caught after using the Costa Concordia disaster to try and fake the death of a woman.

Police in Hungary arrested the trio after New York lawyer Peter Ronai detected the scam as he represented the six Hungarian survivors from the disaster.
The attempted fraud was spotted when Ronai, who was in Budapest, was asked to take on a seventh case from the disaster.

He reportedly received an email from a woman that said her daughter, named as Eva Fiedlerne Puspoki, 38, and five-year-old granddaughter were missing aboard the ship.

Ronai was told by the woman that she had no idea why the pair were on board and that he should speak to her daughter's boyfriend.

The lawyer then questioned the boyfriend and he corroborated the story, but he also asked how much they could receive in compensation.

However the following day the man changed his story, saying the child was not missing, and from there it began to unravel.
'The story kept changing and changing,' Ronai told ABC News, confirming that he suspicious grew as it did so.

He told the man that if he did not see the child he would report her missing to authorities, so later that evening he, and a police team, met the man, alongside the child.
She was asked: ‘When was the last time you saw Mummy?’ Her reply was: ‘today’ and that she had been to park to play on the swings.
Ronai repeated the question for confirmation and the girl replied:'I saw her today. I saw Mummy today.'

The 'missing' woman then appeared but continued to say she had been on the ship - but was injured as she jumped off the boat.
The lawyer added to the news channel: 'They confessed to everything after questioning. They confessed to pulling this scam to make money.
'The police arrested them. They didn't take them away to jail, but they'll face criminal procedures.'

Ronai added that he believed that this could be first case of many of people trying to make money from the disaster

24th January 2012

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Argentina helps search for missing in Viet Nam

Buenos Aires – The Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF) has helped Viet Nam confirm identification of people missing after wartime battles, said EAAF President Louis Fondebrider.
The cooperative plan was established in October, 2010 following the Vietnamese Government's request for technical assistance on the issue, Argentinean press cited the EAAF president as saying.

Last year, two EAAF experts came to Vietnam to provide training in forensic anthropology and identification of remains in Ha Noi and HCM City .
The group also welcomed two officials from the Vietnam National Institute of Forensic Anthropology to gain experience at its headquarters in Cordoba province last December.
According to Fondebrider, the two sides will cooperate in the search for the remains of missing soldiers and also confirm identification of natural disaster victims.

Maria Mercedes Salado , who came to Vietnam to provide training , said Argentinean experts will return to Viet Nam in the coming months for further specific assistance. The EAAF will invite Vietnamese officials, including those from the Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of National Defence, to Argentina for training.

More than one million people were reported missing during the war that ended almost four decades ago.

The EAAF is a non-governmental scientific organisation with experience in forensic anthropology and genetics. - VNA

Updated January, 24 2012

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Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Forensic Apps for First Responders

Law Enforcement Training and Resource Group LLC., ( has come out with a new suite of applications for all smart phones. The suite is built around the needs of the first responder’s response to services calls.

This suite is available for iPhone, Android, and Blackberry smart phones and should be used with those phones with at least a 5 megapixel camera (for best results). The suite of more than a dozen different applications comes complete. The applications are divided into: tools, calculators, and evidence.

Tools include a caliper, level (in degrees and percentage of slope), audio officer notes, field contact report, DOA notes, and References files. The three calculators included are Skid Mark Calculator (for minimum speed, Yaw, and friction factor), pictorial blood spatter trajectory calculator, and a pictorial digital dimension calculator. The evidence applications include two for photos (pre-scaled and scaled photo sets), two apps for video (again one pre-scaled and one for scaled video) along with a field contact audio recorder.

After a simple two step setup, the suite is ready to use. All evidence files are encoded with metafiles that include: agency identifier, officer identifier, case number, GPS location of the scene, date, time, and picture/video/audio numbering.

Upon completion of the call the responder should download the case folders onto a computer with a DVD disk drive and then label the DVD with the case number for evidence, remembering to always follow agency SOPs.

Tool Use
In alphabetical order, the AUDIO NOTE TAKER is just that, a way for the responder to take notes on the fly without stopping to write things down. The CALIPER app will give readings between the jaws in either metric or fractional. The COMPASS app is just that. The DOA notes app give the responder a list of items to fill in using dropdown menus, checks, and fill in the blank to note what was observed “without touching the victim”. In some cases the medical examiner/coroner may assist in the field. The FIELD CONTACT REPORT is expanded to include more than what is necessary but is quite complete, fill in whatever your needs are. The LEVEL application gives a reading of how level the phone is in both degrees and also has a percentage of slope readout. Lastly the REFERENCES app is just that, a list of references that are useful for responders, and includes: Miranda, probable cause statement, three field sobriety tests, and silhouettes of handguns, shotguns, rifles, and assault rifles.

The three calculators include SKID MARKS which calculates not only minimum speed, but also yaw and friction. The BLOOD SPATTER application is innovative. By taking a picture of blood spatter and marking the minor and major axis the application will calculate how many pixels wide by long the spatter is and then give you the angle it hit the object at. The DIMENSION app uses the same concept using a known item within a picture that is on a parallel plane to the camera when the picture was taken. Then by calculating the pixels and applying those calculations to other points within the picture it will draw lines and write in the distance on the picture. The app will keep both the original picture and the finished dimensionalized picture in a folder for downloading.

The three basic applications included in the suite deal with AUDIO WITNESS/VICTIM/SUBJECT comments (check with SOPs for audio recording requirements). There are also two PHOTO apps and two VIDEO apps. In each case, you have a folder for making your documentation prior to setting scales and markers or “as found” pictures, and another set with scales and markers.

Each of the applications has its own instructions included on screen, (just tap the “I” button). All file folders for a specific case are kept by case and date. When you return to the station download, using your phone’s normal download method, onto a computer with a DVD drive and copy the evidence files to a disk for evidence storage (check your agency’s SOPs for special instructions). For more information, visit

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Big Tokyo earthquake likely 'within the next few years'

The chance of a big earthquake hitting the Japanese capital in the next few years is much greater than official predictions suggest, researchers say.

The team, from the University of Tokyo, said there was a 75% probability that a magnitude seven quake would strike the region in the next four years.

The government says the chances of such an event are 70% in the next 30 years.

The warning comes less than a year after a massive earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan's north-eastern coast.

The last time Tokyo was hit by a big earthquake was in 1923, when a 7.9 magnitude quake killed more than 100,000 people, many of them in fires.

Researchers at the University of Tokyo's earthquake research institute based their figures on data from the growing number of tremors in the capital since the 11 March 2011 quake.

They say that compared with normal years, there has been a five-fold increase in the number of quakes in the Tokyo metropolitan area since the March disaster.
Continue reading the main story
Japan quake victim in 2011

What chance of a 'big one' in Tokyo?

They based their calculations on data from Japan's Meteorological Agency, They said their results show that seismic activity had increased in the area around the capital, which in turn leads to a higher probability of a major quake.

The researchers say that while it is "hard to predict" the casualty impact of a major quake on Tokyo, the government and individuals should be prepared for it.

Correspondents say that while the university calculations take account of greater seismic activity since March, government calculations may use different or less up-to-date data and different modelling techniques.

The 9.0 magnitude earthquake last year also crippled the cooling systems at the Fukushima nuclear power station, causing meltdowns in some of its reactors.

Japan is located on a tectonic crossroads dubbed the "Pacific Ring of Fire" which is why its is commonly regarded as one of the world's most quake-prone countries, with Tokyo located in one of the most dangerous areas.

23 January 2012 Last updated at 15:29

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Monday, 23 January 2012

'There's an overpowering smell of decomposition down there': Divers reveal 'unbreathable air' in Costa Concordia search as death toll rises to 15

Teams of naval officers, firefighters and coastguards said the air inside the ship, which capsized off an Italian island, was 'unbreathable'.
Fire chief Enio Aquilino said: 'Imagine the scene if you went on holiday and you came back to find the fridge had switched itself off. The divers are working in those conditions.’

The grim conditions inside the vessel were revealed as two more bodies were recovered from the Costa Concordia today, bringing the confirmed death toll to 15.
The two women were found in a submerged section of the ship, in the internet cafe and were located after further holes had been blown into the superstructure of the Concordia by navy divers.

Tonight it emerged that one of the bodies found was that of Italian honeymooner Maria D'Introno, 30, who was on the cruise with her new husband Vincenzo Roselli and her in-laws, who were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.
Maria, who could not swim, was thought to have jumped in the water with Vincenzo but tonight family friend Carlo Cabrio said: 'They were holding hands when they jumped in but we now think she climbed back up the rope ladder. She was terrified of the water.'
News of the discovery was broken minutes after Franco Gabrielli, the commissioner in charge of the rescue effort focusing on the 114,000-ton super liner, said that the ship was stable and there was no danger of it slipping from the rock shelf it is balanced on.

It means the search continue alongside efforts to siphon off 500,000 gallons of fuel.
Searching has stopped several times since the disaster on 13 January after movement was detected by state of lasers pointed onto the ship from boats anchored close by.

Mr Gabrielli also added that there was no need to secure the Concordia where navy, coastguard and firefighting diving teams are searching for the bodies of at least ‘24 or 25 people’.
This appears to confirm an earlier line of inquiry that some of the missing passengers may not have been registered. Among them was a woman, thought to be Hungarian, who was found yesterday.

Until last night, there had been 19 people officially unaccounted for.
But with the two bodies discovered this morning - reducing that figure to 17 - it means as many eight victims may have been unregistered passengers.

Speaking at a press conference on the island of Giglio he said: 'Having spoken with a team of experts the search and the removal of the fuel can proceed at the same time.
‘The search will continue as long as possible and if there are bodies between the ship and the bottom of the sea these will recovered when the ship is straightened.’

Mr Gabrielli said that he had also asked Costa Cruises about the possibility of salvaging the Concordia which is lying on a rock shelf just outside the part of Giglio where it came to rest after hitting rocks ten days ago two hours after leaving port on a week long Mediterranean cruise.

Costa have not said yet what exactly will happen to the Concordia but salvage experts say the most likely outcome is that it will be cut into huge sections and taken away for scrap - that and the fuel removal operation are expected to last at least three months.
There were fears that the Concordia's double-bottom fuel tanks could rupture in case of sudden shifting, spilling 2,200 tonnes of heavy fuel into pristine sea around Giglio.
The island is part of an archipelago in some of the Mediterranean's clearest waters and a prized fishing area.

The search had been halted for several hours yesterday, after instrument readings indicated that the Concordia had shifted on its precarious perch on a seabed just outside Giglio's port.
A few yards away, the sea bottom drops off suddenly, by some 65-100 feet, and if the Concordia should abruptly roll off its ledge, rescuers could be trapped inside.

When instrument data indicated the vessel had stabilised again, rescuers returned, but explored only the above-water section and evacuation staging areas where survivors indicated that people who did not make it into lifeboats during the chaotic evacuation could have remained.
Authorities are also trying to identify five corpses which are badly decomposed after spending a long time in the water.

Mr Gabrielli said the other eight bodies: four French, an Italian, a Hungarian, a German and a Spanish national, had been identified .
The missing include French passengers, an elderly couple from Minnesota, a Peruvian crew member and an Indian crewman and an Italian father and his five-year-old daughter.
Some of their relatives toured the wreckage yesterday and also met Pierluigi Foschi chief executive of Costa Crociere, the ship's operator, who viewed the crippled cruise liner from a boat.

France's ambassador to Italy, Alain Le Roy, recounting Mr Foschi's visit, said: "He came to see the families, all families. He met the French family. He met the American family.
'I am sure he is meeting other families, mostly to express his compassion ... to say that Costa will do everything possible to find the people, to compensate families in any way.’
Passengers were dining at a gala supper when the Concordia sailed close to Giglio and struck the reef, which is indicated on maritime and even tourist maps.
The liner's Italian captain, Francesco Schettino, is under house arrest as prosecutors investigate him for suspected manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning the ship while many were still aboard.
Costa Crociere, a subsidiary of US-based Carnival Cruise Lines, has said Schettino had deviated without permission from the vessel's route in an apparent manoeuvre to sail close to the island and impress passengers.

Firefighters hang scuba gear out a chopper as they prepare to descend to the Costa Concordia
Schettino, despite audiotapes of his defying coastguard orders to scramble back aboard, has denied he abandoned ship while hundreds of passengers were desperately trying to get off the capsizing vessel.
The 52-year-old has said he co-ordinated the rescue from aboard a lifeboat and then from the shore.

He claims he sailed his ship too close to the coast because he was asked to do so by his bosses.
Francesco Schettino said the ‘sail by salute’ was ‘arranged and wanted’ by Costa Cruises chiefs for publicity reasons, according to details of his police questioning leaked to the Italian media.

Last updated at 10:04 PM on 23rd January 2012

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Sunday, 22 January 2012

Costa Concordia disaster: Eight dead identified

Eight of the 12 people known to have died when the Costa Concordia cruise ship was wrecked last week have been identified, Italian officials say.

Four of the victims were French, one was Italian, one Hungarian, one Spanish and one German, they added.

Rescuers have resumed their search of parts of the ship above water, but choppy seas have prevented diving.

At least 20 people are still missing. Officials say some people may have been on board without registering.

The latest discovery was the body of a woman found on Saturday by divers on the fourth deck.

The head of the Civil Protection Agency, Franco Gabrielli, said the woman had not been identified but may be a Hungarian who was not on the embarkation list.

There could have been more "illegals" on board, he said, referring to people who had not registered to be on the ship.

There were known to be 4,200 people on the cruise ship, which struck a rock in shallow waters on 13 January off Tuscany's Giglio island.

The captain, Francesco Schettino, is being investigated for manslaughter, which he denies, and is under house arrest.

He is accused of multiple manslaughter, causing a shipwreck, and abandoning ship before all passengers were evacuated.

Prosecutors say the 57-year-old was sailing too close to Giglio on an unauthorised course in order to perform a "salute" - a greeting to islanders.

However, the Italian media have released a new recording in which Capt Schettino appears to say he will be the last to leave the ship.

Time pressures
Coastguard and navy divers resumed their search on Saturday, blasting their way into submerged areas of the vessel using explosives in an effort to find those unaccounted for.

Rescue officials said on Saturday they would not end the search until the whole ship had been examined, but it was suspended as weather conditions worsened.

On Sunday, civil protection officials said divers would not be allowed into the submerged part of the vessel until the sea was calmer. Rescuers continued their work above the water line.

Correspondents say they are under time pressure, amid fears the ship could slip off a ledge into deeper water with a risk of fuel tanks being ruptured.

One official says swift action needs to be taken to remove the fuel that is on board. An Italian naval vessel is on standby as a precaution should there be an oil leak.

22 January 2012

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Official: possibility of unregistered passengers

GIGLIO, Italy (AP) — Unregistered passengers might have been aboard the stricken cruise liner that capsized off this Tuscan island, a top rescue official said Sunday, raising the possibility that the number of missing might be higher than the 20 previously announced.
Rescuers, meanwhile, resumed searching the above-water section of the Costa Concordia but choppy seas kept divers from exploring the submerged part, where officials have said there could be bodies.

"There could have been X persons who we don't know about who were inside, who were clandestine" passengers aboard the ship, Franco Gabrielli, the national civil protection official in charge of the rescue effort, told reporters at a briefing on the island of Giglio, where the ship, with 4,200 people aboard rammed a reef and sliced open its hull on Jan. 13 before turning over on its side.

Gabrielli said that relatives of a Hungarian woman have told Italian authorities that she had telephoned them from aboard the ship and that they haven't heard from her since the accident. He said it was possible that a woman's body pulled from the wreckage by divers on Saturday might be that of the unregistered passenger.

But the identity of that body and of three male bodies, all badly decomposed after days in the water, have yet to be established. Gabrielli said they have identified the other 12 bodies: four French, an Italian, a Hungarian, a German and a Spanish national.

Until Sunday, authorities had said that 20 people are still missing.

The search had been halted for several hours early Sunday, after instrument readings indicated that the Concordia has shifted a bit on its precarious perch on a seabed just outside Giglio's port. A few meters (yards) away, the sea bottom drops off suddenly, by some 20-30 meters (65-100 feet), and if the Concordia should abruptly roll off its ledge, rescuers could be trapped inside.

When instrument data indicated the vessel had stabilized again, rescuers went back in, but only explored the above-water section. Choppy seas kept divers from exploring the submerged part of the ship, including the restaurant and evacuation staging areas where survivors have indicated that people who did not make it into lifeboats during the chaotic evacuation could have remained.

Passengers were dining at a gala supper when the Concordia sailed close to Giglio and struck the reef, which is indicated on maritime and even tourist maps.

There are also fears that the Concordia's double-bottom fuel tanks could rupture in case of sudden shifting, spilling 2,200 metric tons (almost 500,000 million gallons) of heavy fuel into pristine sea around Giglio, which is part of a seven-island archipelago in some of the Mediterranean's most pristine waters and a prized fishing area.

But Gabrielli said pollutants found near the ship have been detergents and other substances, including chlorine, apparently from the wreck of the ship, which carried some 3,200 passengers and a crew of 1,000. Any fuel traces found were "compatible with what you find in a port," he said.

Ferries and cargo ships regularly call at Giglio's port.
Sophisticated oil-removal equipment has been standing by, waiting for the search-and-rescue operations to conclude before workers can start extracting the fuel in the tanks.
The Italian captain, Francesco Schettino, is under house arrest as prosecutors investigate him for suspected manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning the ship while many were still aboard.

Operator Costa Crociere, a subsidiary of U.S.-based Carnival Cruise Lines, has said that Capt. Schettino had deviated without permission from the vessel's route in an apparent maneuver to sail close to the island and impress passengers.
Schettino, despite audiotapes of his defying Coast Guard orders to scramble back aboard, has denied he abandoned ship while hundreds of passengers were desperately trying to get off the capsizing vessel. He has said he coordinated the rescue from aboard a lifeboat and then from the shore.

By FRANCES D'EMILIO - 22 January 2012
The Associated Press

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Saturday, 21 January 2012

Traditional Physical Autopsies – Not High-Tech 'Virtopsies' – Still the Gold Standard for Determining Cause of Death, Experts Claim

ScienceDaily (Jan. 16, 2012) — TV crime shows like Bones and CSI are quick to explain each death by showing highly detailed scans and video images of victims' insides. Traditional autopsies, if shown at all, are at best in supporting roles to the high-tech equipment, and usually gloss over the sometimes physically grueling tasks of sawing through skin and bone.

But according to two autopsy and body imaging experts at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, the notion that "virtopsy" could replace traditional autopsy -- made popular by such TV dramas -- is simply not ready for scientifically vigorous prime time. The latest virtual imaging technologies -- including full-body computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound, X-ray and angiography are helpful, they say, but cannot yet replace a direct physical inspection of the body's main organs.

"The traditional autopsy, though less and less frequently performed, is still the gold standard for determining why and how people really died," says pathologist Elizabeth Burton, M.D., deputy director of the autopsy service at Johns Hopkins.

Burton and Johns Hopkins clinical fellow Mahmud Mossa-Basha, M.D., in an editorial set to appear in the Annals of Internal Medicine online Jan. 17, offer their own assessment of why the numbers of conventional autopsies have steadily declined over the past decade and why, despite this drop, the virtopsy is unlikely to properly replace it anytime soon.

Burton, who has performed well over a thousand autopsies, says current imaging technologies can help tremendously when used in combination with autopsies. "It's not a question of either traditional autopsy or virtopsy," she says, "it's a question of what methods work best in determining cause of death."
The Johns Hopkins experts base their claims on evidence, some of which will also be published in the same edition of Annals, that some common diagnoses are routinely missed when imaging results are compared to autopsy findings, and there is no proof that virtopsy is a more reliable alternative to conventional autopsy, at least, for now.

According to Burton, a visiting associate professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, hospital autopsy rates in the United States -- for patients who die of natural causes in hospitals -- whose bodies do not have to be examined by the local medical examiner or coroner -- have fallen from a high of about 50 percent in the 1960s to about 10 percent today. At The Johns Hopkins Hospital, she says, the rate remains close to a once-required standard for hospital accreditation of 25 percent, set as an appropriate goal for teaching medical residents and fellows, and auditing clinical practice.

Burton says many reasons are behind the drop in conventional autopsy rates. Medical overconfidence in diagnostic imaging results partly explains the decline, but is also to blame for the high number of diagnostic errors.
"If we chose the right test at the right time in the right people, and followed clinical guidelines to the letter, then modern diagnostic tests would produce optimal results. But we don't," says Burton.

Burton says such misinterpretations of images, lab results, and physical signs and symptoms, help explain the roughly 23 percent of new diagnoses that are detected by autopsy.
She acknowledges that it also is easier for physicians to rely on existing diagnostic techniques to determine the cause of death than to go through the often uncomfortable task of asking grieving family members for permission to perform a conventional autopsy to confirm the cause of death. Making the process more difficult is that many physicians simply don't know what steps to take, including the paperwork and approvals, to get an autopsy performed.

For many families, dissuading factors include the prospect of delaying funeral arrangements, possible disfigurement to a loved one's body as well as the stress in coping with their loss, and the cost of an autopsy, which can run upwards of $3,000, unless the hospital offers to do it at no charge for teaching or its own auditing purposes.

While diagnostic overconfidence, changing cultural norms and cost may depress autopsy rates, Burton says, overreliance on technology underscores an inherent flaw in switching to virtopsy.
In a German study that accompanies the Hopkins editorial, conventional autopsy and imaging results, as would be seen in virtopsy, were compared for accuracy in 162 people who died in hospital. Some had just virtopsy, while the others had both virtopsy and conventional autopsy. In the 47 who underwent both procedures, 102 new diagnoses were found; while in comparison, 47 new diagnoses were found among the 115 who underwent virtopsy alone. Study results also showed that virtual autopsy by CT scan failed to pick up 20.8 percent of the new diagnoses, while conventional autopsy missed only 13.4 percent.

Medical problems most commonly missed or not seen by autopsy included air pockets in collapsed lungs (which could have impeded breathing) and bone fractures, and the most common diagnoses missed by imaging were heart attack, pulmonary emboli and cancer.

Burton says the study findings are not surprising because, for example, a tumor nodule in the lung could appear on any scan or X-ray image as a small, dense, white spot or so-called coin lesion that could easily be interpreted as a fungal infection, tuberculosis-related granuloma or benign tissue mass. But until the tissue is physically examined in a lab, after biopsy or during traditional autopsy, "there's no way to know the diagnosis with 100 percent certainty."
In addition to diagnostic weaknesses, Mossa-Basha says that perhaps the biggest hurdle for proponents of the virtopsy alternative is the high cost of imaging. Modern ultrasounds and MRI scanners cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, with the most advanced CT scanners needed for the most detailed imaging priced well in excess of a million dollars. Full-body CT scans, he says, run about $1,500 each, which, when added to device purchasing and maintenance fees, make vitropsy an expensive option.

Mossa-Basha says major advances in scanning devices make some forensic aspects of autopsy easier when keeping the body closed protects physical evidence from being destroyed, such as tracking bullet trajectories in gun victims.

"Steady progress in imaging technology is refining conventional autopsy, making it better and more accurate," says Mossa-Basha, a clinical fellow in neuroradiology at Johns Hopkins. "Physicians really need to be selective and proactive -- even before a critically injured patient in hospital dies -- in deciding whether an autopsy is likely to be needed and, if so, whether to approach the family in advance. Only in this way do we ensure that we are using the latest scanning devices appropriately during autopsy and when it is most effective in producing the most accurate-as-possible death certificates."

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Health-Based Approach May Help ID Groups at Risk of Genocide

ScienceDaily (Sep. 19, 2011) — Researchers from North Carolina State University are proposing a health-based approach to identifying groups at high risk of genocide, in a first-of-its-kind attempt to target international efforts to stop these mass killings before they start.

Genocide, or the willful attempt to exterminate a specific population, is a violation of international law. In recent years, international discussion of genocide has focused in part on finding ways to identify populations at risk in order to prevent a problem before it starts.
Some risk factors have already been identified, such as severe state oppression of a group or a regional history of genocide. Now researchers are offering a new risk factor for consideration: a population's health and its track record of prenatal care.

"This is a data-driven approach that we developed by analyzing the remains of genocide victims. There can be no confusion or claims of inaccurate reporting from third parties. The bodies of the victims speak for themselves," says Dr. Ann Ross, professor of anthropology at NC State and co-author of a paper on the research and proposed risk factor. This effort marks the first time researchers have used skeletal analysis to assess the overarching health of genocide victims before their murder.

Ross and her co-author, former NC State graduate student Ashley Maxwell, began by analyzing remains of Bosnian Muslims from the Srebrenica massacre -- where 8,000 men and boys were killed in 1995. Ross is a forensic anthropologist and worked extensively in the Balkans during the late 1990s to help identify the remains of genocide victims.

The researchers found that the Srebrenica victims had an unusually high frequency of malnutrition, poor health and inadequate prenatal care. For example, the victims had a high rate of spina bifida, which is directly related to poor nutrition and prenatal care.
"These conditions are good indicators of genocide risk because they illustrate the population's marginalized status," Ross says.

The researchers also examined epidemiological data from the World Health Organization on the general health of refugees from Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. Those data were consistent with the forensic assessment of the Srebrenica victims.

"This gives politicians and international bodies another tool that can be used to identify -- and protect -- populations facing genocide," Ross says. "We need to prevent these mass murders, not sit on our hands wondering when to take action."

The paper, "Epidemiology of Genocide: An Example from the Former Yugoslavia," will be published in the fall issue of Forensic Science Policy and Management.

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3 bodies exhumed in Turkey during investigation into alleged extrajudicial killings

ANKARA, Turkey - Authorities have exhumed the bodies of three Kurds as part of their investigation into alleged extrajudicial killings by Turkish security forces in the 1990s.

The bodies were found Thursday in a village in southeast Turkey.

Earlier this month, authorities made two other grim discoveries in the region: at least 15 skulls in a suspected mass grave at a military unit and former prison, and bones that appear to be those of humans buried at an operating Turkish military outpost.

The nation's government has vowed to shed light on the alleged extrajudicial killings that occurred at the height of clashes with autonomy-seeking Kurdish rebels, mostly in the southeast, in the 1990s.

Human right groups believe many of the hundreds of Kurds and leftists who disappeared in the 1990s were victims of summary executions by government forces, but there have been few prosecutions. Turkey has been excavating alleged mass graves for the past two years, though no bodies have been identified yet.

The fighting between the Kurdish rebels and the Turkish security forces has left tens of thousands of people dead since 1984.

"Extrajudicial killings, which are the shame of an era, are now being seriously investigated," Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said Thursday. "Some crimes which could not be talked about in the past are now on the way to being solved."

Turkey has conducted reforms as part of its European Union membership bid, clearing the way for families of the disappeared to pursue the cases.

Lawyer Ridvan Dalmis, who witnessed Thursday's excavation of the three bodies near the village of Yagizoymak, said the remains allegedly are those of civilians who were killed by security forces in June 1993 and hastily buried by Kurdish villagers before they were forced to evacuate the area.

"They were buried with their clothes and there were clear signs of bullet holes on their bones," Dalmis said in a telephone interview on Friday. "Their families identified them from their clothing, but still DNA tests will be conducted."

Authorities, meanwhile, were preparing to expand an excavation in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir after unearthing at least 15 skulls and human bones over the past 10 days at the site of a former prison and military unit, said Emin Aktar, head of the Bar Association in Diyarbakir.

The bones were found by workers restoring the prison, said Aktar. The prison, notorious for alleged torture, was closed down in 2009.

"At least 27 families have petitioned authorities, saying they might be the remains of their missing loved ones," Aktar said by telephone on Friday. "We don't know yet whether they were buried in the 1990s or earlier."

Earlier this week, authorities discovered some buried bones near a helicopter landing zone of a military outpost close to the village of Gorumlu near the Iraqi border, but it was not clear if they were human bones, said Nusirevan Elci, head of the Bar Association in the town of Sirnak.

"The excavation in Gorumlu was launched following confessions of a soldier who served there in 1993," Elci said Friday. "The soldier said that he had a guilty conscience for 19 years."

Article by: SELCAN HACAOGLU , Associated Press Updated: January 20, 2012

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Turkey exhumes bodies of three Kurds for probe

ANKARA: Authorities have exhumed the bodies of three Kurds as part of their investigation into alleged extrajudicial killings by Turkish security forces in the 1990s. The bodies were found on Thursday in a village in southeast Turkey.

Earlier this month, authorities made two other grim discoveries in the region: at least 15 skulls in a suspected mass grave at a former prison and Turkish military unit, and bones that appear to be those of humans buried at an operating Turkish military outpost.

The nation’s government has vowed to shed light on the alleged extrajudicial killings that occurred at the height of clashes with autonomy-seeking Kurdish rebels, mostly in the southeast, in the 1990s.

Human right groups believe many of the hundreds of Kurds and leftists who disappeared in the 1990s were victims of summary executions by government forces, but there have been few prosecutions. Turkey has been excavating alleged mass graves for the past two years, though no bodies have been identified yet.

The fighting between the Kurdish rebels and the Turkish security forces has left tens of thousands of people dead since 1984.

“Extrajudicial killings, which are the shame of an era, are now being seriously investigated,” Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said on Thursday. “Some crimes which could not be talked about in the past are now on the way to be enlightened.”

Lawyer Ridvan Dalmis, who witnessed Thursday’s excavation of the three bodies near the village of Yagizoymak, said the remains allegedly are those of civilians who were killed by security forces in June 1993 and hastily buried by Kurdish villagers before they were forced to evacuate the area.

“They were buried with their clothes and there were clear signs of bullet holes on their bones,” Dalmis said in a telephone interview on Friday. “Their families identified them from their clothing, but still DNA tests will be conducted.”

Authorities, meanwhile, were preparing to expand an excavation in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir after unearthing at least 15 skulls and human bones over the past 10 days at the site of a former prison and military unit, said Emin Aktar, head of the Bar Association in Diyarbakir.

Associated Press - January 21, 2012

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Mangalore Air India Express crash victims bodies were misidentified - 8/8/2010

Thiruvananthapuram: The bodies of several of those who died when the Air India Express flight from Dubai crashed at the Mangalore airport on May 22 may have been misidentified by relatives, according to a paper published in the journal Current Science.

The finding by scientists at the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics in Hyderabad substantiate reports that have appeared in the media about such misidentification.

The air disaster had claimed 158 lives, including the passengers and crew. The remains of 136 persons were handed over after close relatives identified them. But the remaining 22 victims could either not be identified or had rival claimants.

The Centre, which had rushed two experts down to Mangalore on its own initiative and who used technique of genetic analysis to quickly put names to these as yet unidentified individuals.

There was considerable pressure on us to deliver results because everybody was waiting, said J. Gowrishankar, the Centre's director. There were grieving relatives who wanted the identification process over and done with. The district administration was concerned because there were no proper facilities in Mangalore to store bodies, which had begun to decompose. There was pressure from Air India too three of whose flight crew were among those unidentified.

DNA profiling involves picking up telltale genetic signatures carried in human chromosomes. Identifying a person is based on similarities in their genetic signature with those of a close blood relative, typically a parent, child or sibling.

The Hyderabad laboratory needed to produce DNA profiles from the body samples of 22 victims and match them with those from the blood samples of 32 relatives.

Identities of 10 persons could be established within three days of the samples reaching Hyderabad, say the Centre's scientists in their Current Science paper.

Further genetic testing, which took more time, conclusively showed that the remaining 12 bodies were not related to any of the claimants. That came as a surprise, since all those on the ill-fated aircraft were listed in the flight manifest.

It indicated that several bodies had been mistakenly identified by relatives, who needed to rely on a persons features and personal effects to do so, observed the scientists.

They suggested that when handling similar events in the future, the mortal remains of victims be released to families only after suitable and authentic identification was completed. If that was not practical, tissue samples must be taken at the time of autopsy for retrospective DNA analysis. Arrangements should be made, such as by using portable refrigerated caskets, to preserve human remains till the identification process ended.

Procedures for DNA-based victim identification should be incorporated as standard operating protocol in all disaster management plans.

They went on to point out that this would also require substantial expansion of the volume of routine DNA profiling activities being done in the country at present, so that adequate resources and personnel could be requisitioned in an emergency.

There are not enough trained DNA examiners in the country currently, explained Dr. Gowrishankar, one of the authors of the paper. It would be possible to expand their numbers substantially only if the State police forces across the country began using such genetic techniques far more extensively for various criminal investigations. The police, in turn, faced financial constraints as well as the lack of sufficient numbers of trained scientific personnel. Ways must be found to address both problems.

The full paper can be found on the Current Science website currsci/

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Canadian hair database will help forensic investigators identify bodies

University of Ottawa researchers Gilles St-Jean and Michelle Chartrand have spent years collecting and analyzing hair from across the country to build a database that will help forensic investigators identify unidentified remains. They hope to have the database up and running by the end of 2012.

On television crime shows, there is already a database for everything, Chartrand says. “In reality, those databases don’t exist. That’s what we’re trying to build here.”

And the clues to building this database are in the water.

When water is consumed, it leaves a chemical fingerprint in hair. And because people tend to drink and cook with their local water, which can vary by region, the signature left on the hair will be geographically unique.

“This is a new tool to help investigators who’ve hit a wall. Sometimes they have no idea where to look,” says St-Jean. “You can get DNA from a body that you’ve found, but if that person never wound up in a DNA database, it’s a useless piece of information.”

Researchers can tell where a person has been by studying the hydrogen and oxygen in the hair. Specifically, they analyze stable isotopes — different forms of the same chemical element — in the hair.

Because hair retains isotopic information, and grows about one centimetre each month, it can provide a personal chronology of where a person has been. If a person moves across the country over the course of a year, that movement will be reflected in the last 12cms of hair growth.

The longer the hair, the longer the trail of footsteps. It’s like having a passport that’s been stamped along the way.

So if an unidentified body is found in downtown Toronto, the person’s hair may indicate they’re not from the city, but a resident of a remote community in northern Ontario — a detail that could prove useful to investigators.

“What stable isotope analysis can do is help us focus our investigation,” says Superintendent John House of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary. “With a lot of these cases, we have no idea who they are. We don’t know if they’re transients who’ve come in or even if they’re foreigners.”

As of Dec. 1, 2011, there were 205 unsolved unidentified bodies in the OPP database and about 600 unidentified bodies in Canada.

A national database, “would be a very important tool for police,” says House.

The science behind St-Jean and Chartrand’s research has already been applied in Canadian cases. Back in 2006, House suggested stable isotope analysis be used for the first time in a Newfoundland cold case: the Minerals Road skull.

In 2001, hikers trekking through the woods of Conception Bay South, NL, stumbled upon a human skull, wrapped in a plastic bag. Investigators were stumped, despite exhausting many investigative procedures.

After learning about researchers in Europe doing stable isotopic analysis, House sent them samples of the skull and hair, which was 17cms long.

Scientists determined the male victim had lived for extended periods in southern Ontario or southern Quebec, and/or Atlantic Canada. Or, the north-eastern United States. They also noted a blip in the isotopic signature, suggesting he had visited Newfoundland for a brief period about 13 months prior to his death.

Other testing helped estimate the man’s age — he had been born between 1955 and 1961 — and decapitated between 1995 and 1997.

The tests generated new leads, but not enough to crack the case. The Minerals Road skull remains unidentified.

Although the Ottawa scientists are still finalizing their research, they’ve already worked a handful of cold cases with the RCMP and provincial police forces in Ontario and Quebec.

Among the cases is that of so-called Madame Victoria.

In 2001, a badly-decomposed body of a woman in her 50s was found in a wooded area near Montreal’s Royal Victoria Hospital. It’s believed her remains were there for two years.

In January 2010, the coroner’s office sent Chartrand samples of the woman’s hair — It was 43 cms-long, providing 43 months of information. With the hair, Chartrand discovered the woman had moved to seven different locations in the last 43 months of her life, travelling from northern Ontario or Quebec and moving south to Montreal. The longest time she had spent in one place was seven months.

The hair also revealed that in the last five months of her life, she may have been extremely ill, and had likely lost a great deal of weight — a telling detail that helped the facial reconstruction artist.

While the hair analysis didn’t crack the case, Chartrand provided investigators with some insight into Madame Victoria’s movements, diet and health.

To build a database, showing the isotopic components in hair found from coast to coast, Chartrand spent four years travelling across Canada. She collected about 600 different locks of hair, along with samples of the local tap water. In order to obtain a stable signal specific to the region, she sought participants who rarely, if ever, travelled.

This way, when an unidentified body is found the individual’s hair can be compared against the database to try and determine where he or she may have come from.

“We’re always interested in anything that can provide additional information to help investigators,” says RCMP forensic scientist Ron Fourney, who says that even though isotopic hair analysis is still in the early stages of research, “It’s very exciting.”

“It’s another tool in the forensic tool box, a very important one and one that we haven’t seen before,” says Fourney, director of National Services and Research, which falls under the Forensic Science and Identification Services of the RCMP. The agency is working with the scientists to build the database, a project that is being funded by the government agency Centre for Security Science.

In Canada, the hydrogen isotope signals in water vary according to latitude and altitude. As you move north, they tend to become less heavy — a signal that will be reflected in the hair of those who live there.

While this method of hair analysis is gaining popularity in forensic science cases where DNA testing and other traditional means of investigation have shed little light, it does have its own geographical limits.

Scientists can identify regions, but not cities. For instance, they can tell whether someone came from southern or northern Ontario, but can’t pinpoint Kitchener or Kapuskasing.

Also, areas in a region that get drinking water from the same source are lumped together. For instance, the hydrogen isotope signals in hair of people living in Hamilton, Toronto and Kingston will be similar because those cities all rely on Lake Ontario for water.

“When I moved from Toronto to Ottawa and started drinking the local water, my signal started to change immediately,” says Chartrand, explaining that Ottawa gets its drinking water from the Ottawa River, the source of which comes from the north.

Chartrand and St-Jean are still determining the impact hair dye has on isotope values. But, so far, research indicates there’s no change for hair that has been bleached or dyed blond. They’ll also need to analyze, what difference, if any, is there if someone drinks bottled water, or has a daily glass of say Australian wine.

Isotopic signals from other chemicals — carbon and nitrogen — reveal information about a person’s diet and health.

“Everything we consume goes into making our body tissue, including our hair,” says Chartrand. “It is very true that you are what you eat.”

Saturday, January 21, 2012

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No coherent mechanism used to identify crash victims bodies - 6/7/2010

MANGALORE: Twelve of the 158 passengers of the Air India Express flight killed in the May 22 crash here had to be buried in unmarked graves.

According to the district administration, the 12 bodies could not be identified because of a mix-up. Some families took away the bodies that did not belong to them in the confusion that prevailed after the crash. The body of Mohammed Zubair Ziad (4) was taken away by a family that believed that it was the body of an adult.

Tales of woe

Narrating a similar incident, Vidya Dinker, an activist who was involved in the relief operations, said: One family had identified their kin and filled the claims form at the Wenlock Hospital. They then moved to another hospital to look for other relatives. By the time they came back, somebody else had taken the body. There was no coherent mechanism to identify the bodies, and some junior policemen were handling the process. Whereas, a senior police officer was managing traffic, she claimed.

Disaster Victim Identification guidelines issued by the Interpol were not adhered to immediately. Guidelines

Despite the Interpol's warning that visual identification is notoriously unreliable and should be avoided at all costs, 136 of the 158 bodies were handed over on this basis alone.

The Interpol, instead, recommends the use of medical and forensic tests.

According to a senior district official, the Interpol's guidelines were referred to 10 days after the crash.

No alternative

Inspector-General of Police Gopal B. Hosur said that there was no other alternative. All the bodies could not have been identified by DNA tests. There was no way we could have waited for the DNA tests. Keeping so many bodies in our possession for so long could have created a law and order nightmare, he said.

District Health Officer H. Jagannath said as the district’s storage facilities were woefully inadequate, the bodies would have started decomposing.

Better management

Chief Fire Officer H.S. Varadarajan said that some of the bodies could not be identified because they were robbed of jewellery by some of those who posed as rescue workers at the crash site. The police should have cordoned off the area and allowed only fire tenders to do their job, he said.

Deputy Superintendent of Police S. Girish, who was in-charge of the crash site, said: There were only around 10 firemen and public support was necessary.

Several places

Dr. Jagannath said that a major reason for the mix-up was that all the bodies were not taken to one place for identification. Several bodies were taken to private medical colleges.

According to Mr. Varadarajan, there was nobody at the crash site to direct the ambulances carrying the bodies to the right place.


By the time the district administration realised its mistake and ordered that all the bodies should be shifted to the Wenlock Hospital, 28 bodies had been taken away, District Medical Officer B. Saroja said.

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