Sunday, 2 December 2012

A forensic anthropologist's life and work

If Zhou Xueliang says he is the most experienced forensic anthropologist in Jiangsu's provincial capital of Nanjing, no one will dispute that.

Although he retired 24 years ago, the 90-year-old still goes to work every day by bus. He has a lab in the Forensic Identification Center under Nanjing Medical University. The lab is piled high with books and materials. On his desk sits a microscope that has helped him anatomize more than 1,000 bodies.

"I recognize more dead people than living ones," Zhou says with a smile.

It wasn't Zhou's first choice to be a forensic anthropologist. He entered medical school in 1946 to achieve his aspiration of becoming a doctor. But when he graduated in 1951, the university asked him to become a forensic assistant.

"I chose to study in a medical school to solve the problems of living people, not to spend time with the dead," Zhou says. But after some consideration, he agreed to accept the university's offer and worked hard to overcome his fear.

When he was an undergraduate, Zhou sometimes went looking for unidentified bodies in abandoned areas together with some male classmates.

"I've seen all types of corpses died of various reasons," Zhou says. "The most horrible bodies are those who died of drowning, with terribly swollen faces and stomachs."

Dissecting bodies is his core job. "Take the human brain, for example. The brain is as soft as fresh tofu, and thus, it's hard to cut. We need to add formaldehyde so that it will stiffen.

"But the career requires us to overcome our fears, and we got used to the bodies after awhile," Zhou says. "My nose is not sensitive to the smell of decomposed bodies now."

The man says his job is like a detective's. "A forensic anthropologist needs to combine professional knowledge with reality, such as the victim's health condition, the family background and the social network, to consolidate the conclusion of the anatomy."

Citing an example, Zhou says there was a case of a female teacher who died naked in Hunan province in February 2003, and the forensic department helped to solve the crime.

The local court first thought the woman died of acute cardiopulmonary failure. But after careful examination, Zhou and his colleagues found subcutaneous hemorrhaging in several parts of the body that were not easily touched. The court finally delivered the verdict that the boyfriend was 50 percent responsible for the death due to "improper behavior".

In another case, a man in his 30s died in his own apartment in Liyang of Jiangsu province, with his throat and sex organs cut open. Investigations by local police found that the man cheated on his wife and had a mistress.

"It was easy to draw the conclusion that the man was murdered," Zhou says. "But suicide and murder display differently - the directions, depth and places of the cuts, as well as the bleeding and the struggles were not the same. From the evidence collected, I concluded that the man committed suicide."

Because of Zhou's professionalism, he supervises his young colleagues in the forensic identification center, says Li Kai, one of the center's staff. "We usually ask Professor Zhou to check our anatomy reports before we release them. His opinions and suggestions are very helpful."

Zhou says although he's 90 years old, he is still constantly learning. "This is required by our career. We need to keep up to date with knowledge related to our work, such as brain surgery, gynecology and internal medicine."

A book titled Diagnostic Pathology in Zhou's office looks dirty and well-used, evidence that it is frequently used as a reference.

He volunteered to donate his body as early as 1998, together with his brother and sister-in-law, and says he is satisfied with his meaningful life.

Because forensic anthropologists' anatomy reports have considerable influence over the courts, people involved in the investigated cases visit Zhou from time to time.

He has been harassed and received threatening telephone calls in the middle of the night. But he says he has never once submitted to coercion or inducement.

"We must be just and objective," Zhou says.

"Doctors pay attention to efficacy, we pay attention to jurisprudence. Doctors give patients health, we give the dead justice."

Sunday 2 December 2012

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Five Germans killed in Egypt bus crash

Five German tourists and two Egyptians were killed in a bus crash near an Egyptian Red Sea resort on Sunday, police officials said.

Berlin's foreign ministry confirmed that Germans had died in the accident, without specifying the number.

The tourists died when two mini-buses crashed inside a resort near the popular tourist destination Hurghada, officials said.

A number of tourists were also wounded in the crash, they said, without giving further details.

"We unfortunately have to convey that German citizens have been killed and... injured in an accident on the Egyptian coast of the Red Sea," a German foreign ministry spokesman said.

"Foreign Minister (Guido) Westerwelle has activated the foreign ministry's crisis management group. The German ambassador is on the way to the site of the accident," he added.

Road accidents are common in Egypt, largely due to bad road conditions and lax enforcement of traffic laws.

On Friday, two Russian tourists were killed when their bus overturned near the Sinai resort of Nuweiba, police said.

And on November 17, 47 Egyptian school children were killed when a train smashed into their bus in central Egypt.

Sunday 2 December 2012

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Yerevan says Brazzaville crash plane was Armenian

A cargo plan that crashed at Brazzaville airport killing at least 27 people belonged to the Armenian freight specialist airline Rij Airways, the foreign ministry in Yerevan said Saturday.

The plane, carrying seven crew members, crashed as it tried to land in a storm on Friday.

Most of the victims were local people killed when the plane skidded off the runway and ploughed into houses and a bar in the Congolese capital.

"According to initial information, the crew was made up of seven people, of whom five were Armenian," added Armenian civil aviation authority spokeswoman Nelli Tchertchinian.

"They all died," she said.

In Brazzaville, a hospital official told AFP there were 27 bodies. It was not clear if this included the crew.

More than 30 others were injured in the disaster.

The four-engine Ilyushin T76 plane had earlier taken off from the western port city of Pointe Noire.

Sunday 2 December 2012

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13 dead, scores injured in Mbale, Kabale accidents

Cries and screams filled the air on the Mbale-Kampala highway following a grisly accident that claimed the lives of 12 youths participating in the Imbalu circumcision procession on Friday night.

The accident, according to witnesses, occurred at around 9:20pm after a speeding Omni bus tried to dodge an oncoming commuter taxi and instead swerved off the road and rammed into the dancers killing 12 on the spot and injuring several others.

The accident occurred at Kamonkole Trading Centre, five kilometres from Mbale Town.

The deceased

Relatives of the deceased, who rushed to the scene, wailed as they tried to identify the bodies.

The dead were identified as Fatuma Madango, who was pregnant, Michael Oumo, 24, Julius Balamu Wavuna, 21, Richard Podo, 36, Mubage, 25, Ednand Mirifibi, 16 and Caroline Nabwire, 14.

Others are Ismail Kowe,12,Alex Menya,14,Namulumbi,24,Magino,14,Madango,32 and a one Patrick,15. The injured, whose numbers are yet to be known, were rushed to Mbale hospital.

The accident scene later turned chaotic as angry residents set ablaze the two vehicles involved in the accident, forcing their drivers to flee.

The resident blocked the road for close to two hours, forcing the police to fire live bullets in the air to disperse them.

The District Police Commander, Mr Martin Otim, attributed the accident to speeding. The area from Kamonkole to Jami Trading Centre is a black spot that has claimed about 500 lives in the last five years.

Kabale tragedy

Meanwhile, traffic along the Kabale-Mbarara highway came to stand still on Saturday morning when a fuel tanker lost control and overturned before it burst into flames at Kyanamira Trading Centre.

The driver was burnt beyond recognition. The police identified him as Paulo Maina 40, a resident of Nyeru in Kenya.

His tout Patrick Musiri 22, a resident of Embu, Kenya was severely burnt and rushed to Kabale hospital.

“The accident happened at around 10:30am. The tanker was carrying fuel from Nakuru, Kenya to Rwanda. We suspect that the cause of this accident is reckless driving,” Kabale District Police Commander Bosco Arop said.

The district has no fire truck and police commander for Kigezi sub-region Olivia Wawire said they had called the Fire Brigade from Mbarara District to rescue the situation.

Sunday 2 December 2012

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Update: Avalanche death toll reaches 18

Death toll in the deadly landslides at the Sharda Sector in Azad Kashmir climbed to 18 on Saturday as rescuers recovered more dead bodies.

Sixteen bodies, including that of 12 soldiers, have so far been retrieved. A military rescue operation swung into action after heavy snows on Friday triggered two landslides at a remote outpost in the Kel area of Azad Kashmir near the Line of Control (LoC) with India.

The soldiers were on a mission to find three colleagues buried by an earlier avalanche on Friday. The party of rescuers had found two bodies when another avalanche struck in the mountainous Neelum Valley. ISPR has confirmed that bodies of five soldiers including an officer and four civilians buried under the snow were recovered on Saturday. Search was under way for remaining missing persons.

"Three bodies of soldiers were recovered yesterday. The bodies of five soldiers, including a captain, and four civilians have been recovered today (Saturday)," said a statement by the military.

As per police, bodies of the persons retrieved so far were identified as M Anwar, M Khurshid, M Afzal, Gul Hussain Munir Ahmad, Capt Imran, non commissioned officer Dost M, Havaldar Mehmood Alam, Sepoy Matin Ahmad, Sepoy M Khan, Sepoy M Tahir, Sepoy M Sakhawat Hussain, Sepoy M Hussain, Sepoy M Aslam, Sepoy Atta Ullah, Sepoy Farman Hayat and Sepoy Khalid.

Local administration officials said they were searching for more dead bodies as nine people from the rescue party were still missing.

In April, 140 soldiers were buried when a huge wall of snow crashed into the remote Siachen Glacier base high in the mountains in Kashmir. They have all been declared dead, although some of the bodies remain buried.

That tragedy renewed debate about how much sense it made for a country where millions live below the poverty line to maintain outposts in Siachen, dubbed "the world's highest battleground", at immense cost when violence had decreased.

And in February, at least 16 Indian soldiers on duty in the mountains of Held Kashmir were killed when two avalanches swept through army camps.

Sunday 2 December 2012

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PIL seeks DNA profile of unidentfied bodies

About 40,000 unidentified bodies are disposed of every year removing every trace of their once earthly existence. During the same period thousands go missing from across the country. Is there a link between the unidentified bodies and the missing persons?

A PIL raised this important question and suggested keeping a DNA profile of the bodies before their disposal could help breaking the news of the death to those families waiting the homecoming of their near and dear ones who have gone missing.

The Supreme Court entertained this PIL by NGO Lokniti Foundation and issued notice to ministry of home affairs, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and secretary, department of scientific & industrial research seeking their response to the petition.

Petitioner's counsel Ashok Dhamija said the unidentified bodies could be because of a serious crime and "since the bodies cannot be identified using traditional methods, the perpetrators of the possible crime remain untraced and the families, to which the victims belonged, never come to know about the fate of their near and dear ones."

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

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

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

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

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

So is there not a link between the missing persons and unidentified bodies which could be unraveled through DNA profiling of the dead yet unidentified? asked the petitioner.

Sunday 2 December 2012

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Japanese police find charred bodies inside collapsed tunnel; rescue suspended

Japanese rescuers found five charred bodies in a highway tunnel that collapsed on Sunday, crushing cars and triggering a blaze, and sparking fears of another cave-in.

At least seven people were missing inside the nearly five-kilometer (three mile)-long tunnel. Witnesses spoke of terrifying scenes as at least one vehicle burst into flames, sending out clouds of blinding, acrid smoke.

Rescuers were forced to suspend work for several hours in their efforts to reach those believed trapped under thick concrete ceiling panels that crashed from the roof of the tunnel when engineers warned more debris could fall.

Emergency crews who rushed to the Sasago tunnel on the Chuo Expressway, 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of the capital, were hampered by thick smoke billowing from the entrance.

Dozens of people abandoned their vehicles on the Tokyo-bound section of carriageway, and ran for one of the emergency exits or for the mouth, where they huddled in bitter winter weather.

Emergency crews equipped with breathing apparatus battled around a third of the way into the tunnel, where they found up to 70 meters of concrete panels had come crashing down, crushing at least two vehicles.

Hours after the collapse, engineers warned the structure could be unstable, forcing rescuers to halt their work as a team of experts assessed the danger.

It was during this inspection that accompanying police officers confirmed the first deaths.

“What we found resembled bodies inside a vehicle, they were blackened. We have visually confirmed them but have yet to take them out for closer examination,” an official told AFP.

The Fire and Disaster Management Agency later confirmed there were five bodies, adding another vehicle had also been burned.

By late afternoon the operation had resumed. Footage from security cameras showed large concrete panels in a V shape, apparently having collapsed from the middle, with teams of men in protective gear scrambling over them.

One 28-year-old woman who emerged from the smoke-darkened tunnel by herself told rescuers she had been in a rented van with five other people, fire department official Kazuya Tezuka told AFP by telephone.

“I have no idea about what happened to the five others. I don’t know how many vehicles were ahead and behind ours,” she was quoted as saying.

A truck driver who telephoned a colleague from inside the tunnel was also believed to be trapped.

An AFP reporter said two large orange tents had been erected at the tunnel mouth and a helicopter remained nearby, ready to ferry the injured to hospital.

The tunnel, which passes through hills not far from Mount Fuji, is one of the longest in Japan. It sits on a major road connecting Tokyo with the centre and west of the country.

An NHK reporter was passing through the tunnel on his way to Tokyo when it started to disintegrate.

“I managed to drive through the tunnel but vehicles nearby appeared to have been trapped,” he said. “Black smoke was coming and there seemed to be a fire inside the tunnel.”

A man in his 30s, who was just 50 meters ahead of the caved-in spot, recounted details of the terrifying experience

. “A concrete part of the ceiling fell off all of a sudden when I was driving inside. I saw fire coming from a crushed car. I was so frightened I got out of my car right away and walked one hour to get outside,” he told NHK.

Japan has an extensive and well-maintained network of highways with thousands of tunnels, usually several hundred metres long. Millions of cars use the network every day.

Chikaosa Tanimoto, professor emeritus of tunnel engineering at Osaka University told NHK ceilings are made from concrete panels suspended from pillars.

“Speaking only generally, because it is an old tunnel, it is conceivable that the parts connecting the ceiling panels and pillars, or pillars themselves, have deteriorated, affected by vibrations from earthquakes and passing vehicles,” he said.

Sunday 2 December 2012

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