Saturday, 22 March 2014

Soldiers killed during WW1 named via DNA from relatives

Ten soldiers who died in World War One and whose bodies were found in France five years ago have been named after DNA analysis of samples from relatives.

Since the discovery of the bodies in 2009 the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has been tracking down potential relatives in the hope of identifying them.

The remains were spotted during construction work near the French village of Beaucamps-Ligny.

They were found alongside five other bodies which are yet to be named.

All the soldiers were with 2nd Battalion The York and Lancaster Regiment, and are believed to have died in battle on 18 October 1914.

The men are due to be given a funeral with full military honours in October, while investigations continue to try and track down relatives for the remaining bodies.


Retired computer programmer Peter Hague, 70, of Chinley, Derbyshire said he was "astonished" to find that his cousin twice-removed Cpl Francis Carr Dyson was among those identified.

"It is always strange, and poignant moment when you discover you are related to someone like this, I suppose the sadness of his death is mitigated when you know they died during service for their country," he said.

Mr Hague, who is widowed with two children, said some years ago he had researched his own family background and was aware of the existence of Cpl Dyson.

And after posting details on a genealogy website, Mr Hague said he was contacted "out of the blue" by a genealogist working on behalf of the MoD.

"I gave a DNA mouth swab about six months ago, and it has led to this, it's amazing really," he said.


Defence minister Lord Astor of Hever said: "Our thoughts remain with all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of our country.

"Although these soldiers fell almost a century ago, the Ministry of Defence still takes its responsibility extremely seriously to identify any remains found, trace and inform surviving relatives and to provide a fitting and dignified funeral so they rest in peace."

The funeral of the men has been organised by the 4th Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment, which traces its history back to The York and Lancaster Regiment.

The 10 soldiers who have been identified are:

* Pte Herbert Ernest Allcock, born in Leeds, with family now living in Lancashire
* Pte John Brameld, born in Sheffield with family living in Yorkshire
* Cpl Francis Carr Dyson, born in Wakefield with family now living in Derbyshire
* Pte Walter Ellis, born in Doncaster with family living in Yorkshire
* Pte John Willie Jarvis, born in Rotherham with family living in Yorkshire
* Pte Leonard Arthur Morley, born in Boxhill, Surrey with family now living in Canada
* Pte Ernest Oxer, born in Rotherham with family living in Yorkshire
* Pte John Richmond, born in Nottingham with family living in Nottinghamshire
* Pte William Alfred Singyard, born in Newcastle upon Tyne with family now living in Lincolnshire
* L/Cpl William Henry Warr, born in Dorset with family now living in Somerset

A DNA sample from retired BT manager Barrie Richmond was able to identify his great-uncle Pte Richmond.

Mr Richmond of Ravenshead, Nottinghamshire said: "We are surprised and amazed and excited - and humbled. He was a great-uncle we didn't know anything about - perhaps it was the grief, that people didn't want to speak about it.

"We have found out so much about him. He enlisted in October 1904, signed on for three years, served in India, then worked in the lace making industry before being recalled in 1914.

"He was from Radford, Nottinghamshire, and married wife Ellen, but they had no children."


For 69-year-old retired teacher, Marlene Jackson of Garstang, Lancashire, she discovered she had a great-uncle, when her DNA matched that of Pte Allcock.

She said: "It was quite a surprise when they initially phoned, I had no idea I had a great-uncle, it was never talked about in the family.

"They said would I mind giving my DNA, and I did and now it's confirmed.

"He was the brother of my grandmother Ethel, who died aged 102 in 1988. He had enlisted as a soldier and served in India and Ireland before the war, leaving his wife, also Ethel, and two daughters when he died.

"I feel quite emotional about this, I never knew I had a great-uncle who had died in France. We're going to the re-burial in October."

And for Maureen Simpson, 75, from Stradbroke, Sheffield, who is the grand-daughter of Pte Brameld, the process had allowed her to "close the book" on the mystery of her relative's final resting place.

"It will be lovely to see them properly buried. It is what they deserve," she said.

Saturday 22 March 2014

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MH370 Malaysia plane: How maths helped find an earlier crash

Statisticians helped locate an Air France plane in 2011 which was missing for two years. Could mathematical techniques inspired by an 18th Century Presbyterian minister be used to locate the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370?

In June 2009, Air France flight 447 went missing flying from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil to Paris, France.

Debris from the Airbus A330 was found floating on the surface of the Atlantic five days later, but the mystery of why the plane crashed could only be answered by finding the black box and the cockpit voice recorder.

You may think that having found the debris it would be easy to find the rest of the plane, but it's not that simple - after a number of days, the material would have moved with the ocean current.

Software does exist that can simulate how the debris has travelled from the initial impact. It is used regularly by the US coast guard.

But in this case, because this area near the equator is known for unpredictable currents - particularly at that time of year - it was no help.

American, Brazilian and French ships, planes and submarines all searched for the plane, but they couldn't find it.

At this point France's aviation accident investigation authority, BEA, made a call to a group of statisticians in the US who had expertise in finding objects lost at sea.

"The French BEA had already done a wonderful job of coming up with different theories for why the aircraft might have crashed," she says.

They also had lots of data about historical crashes and the results of the searches that had already been carried out.

To turn all this information into numbers and probability, Keller and her team from Metron Inc in Virginia, relied on Bayesian statistics named after a British Presbyterian minister called Thomas Bayes.

This type of thinking allows you to assess various scenarios at once - even contradictory ones. The probability of each being true is brought together to give you the most likely solution. And if you find new information, you can revise your model easily.

Keller and her colleagues went through all the available information and assessed the uncertainties of each piece of data - applying Bayesian principles of probability to work out the most likely location of the plane.

The team split up the search area into a grid, and applied to each cell a figure representing the probability that the plane would be found there.

To calculate these figures, they first looked at the theories about what caused the plane to crash. For instance, they assessed the likeliness of various mechanical failures, and came up with a probability for each scenario.

They then assessed historical data from previous crashes, noting, for example, that planes were usually found very close to where they were last known to have been.

Finally, Keller and her team lowered the probability of the plane being found in locations that had already been searched.

"There are two components to Bayesian maths which make it unique. It allows you to consider all the data you have including the uncertainties which is very important because nothing is certain," says Keller.

"And to combine it all - it even allows you to combine views that contradict each other.

"For instance with the Malaysian search, you have that arc to the north and the arc to the south. It's either one or the other but it can't have gone both ways, but [Bayes] allows you to preserve all your theories and weight them."

The second benefit is that the Bayesian approach is very flexible, Keller says. It allows you to update your body of knowledge at any time. If something new comes up, you factor it in and update the probability map.

In the case of the Air France plane, they could be sure that the plane had come down within a 40-mile radius of the last location pinged out by its on-board computer system.

Yet this area was so huge that the investigators were struggling to know where to look.

The probability map Keller provided gave, by contrast, a much tighter area to search.

A team went out there, hoping that finally the mystery would be solved. But those hopes were dashed. There was no sign of the plane.

It seemed the statisticians could not help after all.

Some months later, though, Air France got back in touch and asked Keller to make one last attempt to analyse the data.

This time, she and her colleagues decided they were not happy with one of their initial assumptions.

The historical data showed that after a crash, the black box will be emitting a signal in 90% of cases.

In the immediate aftermath of the crash, search teams had spent a lot of time sweeping the areas close to the last known location, listening for the ping of the black box or voice recorder.

They had heard nothing. So Keller and her team had decided there was a very low probability the plane would be found there.

But what if neither the black box nor the voice recorder were sending a signal?

The Metron statisticians now adapted their model to this possible scenario and came up with a new area of highest probability.

A team returned to the scene to look - and this time they found the plane.

The mystery of the crash was solved. The black box and voice recorder data appear to show that the pilots were given faulty speed readings, responded inappropriately, and lost control of the plane.

"It still was a minor miracle that we found it," says Keller.

"It was lucky that the wreckage was on the bottom of the ocean floor, on a very sandy area. There were some areas down there that looked like the Himalayas - in terms of mountains, crags, and valleys."

If the plane had been in one of those areas, she says, "it could have been undetected forever".

Keller says she is not sure Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 will be found.

"It's a big world out there. And I know people are saying - how could you possibly hide or not find a Boeing 777?

"[But] it's very likely if we don't get any breakthroughs, it's at the bottom of the Indian Ocean and we will never find it, sadly."

Even finding debris might not mean finding the bulk of the plane.

"If we found wreckage at this point, it would tell us it was in one body of water rather than the other," Keller says. "But it's so long since the plane would have crashed that I don't think the wreckage is going to be very helpful."

Saturday 22 March 2014

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Uganda: Scores feared dead in Lake Albert boat capsize

Scores of passengers are believed to have died after a boat they were traveling in capsized on Lake Albert in Kibaale district Saturday morning.

Many of the over 100 passengers of the ill-fated vessel were traders, police said.

They were en route to the DR Congo from Kyangwali and Bugoma in Hoima district when they encountered mechanical difficulty in Kitenile, leading to the boat capsize.

The incident occurred at between 10.30am and 11am local time. The police could not readily confirm the death toll by press time.

About 10 survivors had been rescued and 20 bodies recovered by the time of filing this report.

Efforts to look for more survivors and recover bodies are still going on.

Four years ago, some 70 people were involved in a fatal boat fatality when their boat capsized on Lake Albert. Many were killed in one of the worst boat disasters in Uganda's history.

Coincidentally, the incident occured on a Saturday.

In the 2010 capsize, the fateful vessel carried traders, school children, luggage and tonnes of fish.

Boat accidents are common on Uganda’s lakes. More than 10 people died in a boat accident on the Ugandan side of Lake Victoria in July 2010 and more than 50 were killed in a boat capsize in August 2010.

Saturday 22 March 2014

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Foreign and deceased: Unclaimed bodies in Costa Rica

Since 2012, the cryogenic chambers of the Forensic Pathology section of the Judicial Branch in Costa Rica have served as the final resting place of 37 deceased individuals whose bodies have never been claimed. Many of the dearly departed were citizens of the United States, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Italy, Bulgaria, and ten other nations; however, a few Costa Rican citizens are also among the unclaimed.

According to an investigative report in daily tabloid Diario Extra, the accumulation of unclaimed bodies comes at a deep cost to the Judicial Branch. Many of the bodies should have already received proper burial, but financial constraints, hope and matters of religious faith often delay the process.

The Posthumous Chambers

When a physician in Costa Rica cannot determine that a death occurred under natural circumstances, agents from the Organization of Judicial are called in -even when the demise was accidental. The same goes when a criminal act or foul play is suspected, but there is one exception to this rule: If the decedent cannot be identified, he or she will be taken to the Forensic Pathology morgue at the Judicial Complex in San Joaquin de Flores, province of Heredia. This where they enter one of the two chambers where they will lie in wait.

Both cryogenic chambers are kept at three degrees Celsius (about 37 degrees Fahrenheit). The busy Chamber One houses up to 30 bodies; it is used when the dearly departed has been identified and relatives or loved ones are on their way to claim them. Chamber Two has a much higher capacity; this is where the unclaimed and unidentified lie in wait. Some have been here a few months; others have been here for a couple of years.

The Final Resting Place

Most autopsies in Costa Rica last about four hours; although some cases have required pathologists to take turns and work on a single body for 16 hours. In the past, the remains of the unidentified and unclaimed have been donated to medical schools where they are used as scientific cadavers. That has not been the case in the last three years due to internal rulemaking.

Some think that the unidentified and unclaimed should not be kept in the morgue for so long. In Costa Rica, however, a mindset of hope prevails; hope for relatives, loved ones or even Good Samaritans to eventually come forward and take the dearly departed home -or at least pay them final respects in solemnity.

By virtue of her Constitution, Costa Rica is a Catholic nation. Faith in the Paschal Mystery is strong, for in death we are reminded that God promised us eternal life; albeit one that is ephemeral here on Earth. Saint John Neumann Catholic Church of Sunbury, Ohio explains this very elegantly:

“[The] Church intercedes on behalf of the deceased. We are confident in the conviction that death is not the end nor does it break the bonds of family, friendship and community that are forged in life.

The Church through its funeral rites commends the dead to God’s merciful love and pleads for the forgiveness of their sins. The celebration of the Christian funeral brings hope and consolation to the living.”

Once the rules dictate that the unclaimed and unidentified are to be given the Paschal Mystery, a legal notice is published by Diario Extra. Although this notice can be published in any newspaper of record, it just so happens that the daily tabloid Diario Extra is known to sacrifice premium advertising space for the purpose of publishing legal notices and other items of special interest to immigrants and the poor in Costa Rica.

After the legal notice is published and embassies are notified (in the case of foreigners), forensic staff waits two weeks for someone to come forward and claim the dearly departed from Costa Rica; deceased foreigners are given two months. The Holy Burial is performed by a Catholic Chaplain along with forensic staff. The decedent are placed in a simple casket made of true pine or laurel before they are lowered into their own burial space, which is marked with what little information may be available about them. The cost to the Judicial Branch is about $2,000 per burial; this cost includes unpaid overtime and the cemetery plot.

Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, and dust to dust: The unclaimed rest at the Calvo Cemetery in the appropriately-named Sacred Heart of Jesus neighborhood, in the lovable city of San Jose. Should loved ones come forward after the burial, they will have a very nice place to visit and pay respects to their dearly departed.

Saturday 22 March 2014

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10 women drown as boat sinks in India

A pall of gloom descended over a village near Deoli in Tonk district on Friday when 10 women labourers drowned when their boat capsized in Banas river. Five other women and a sailor managed to swim to the river bank. It has come up during preliminary investigation that the boat may have capsized after getting stuck in fishing net.

The incident exposed illegal boating in Banas river and how they are used to ferry people despite being overcrowded. Locals staged demonstration and blocked a road demanding compensation for the families of the victims. Chief minister Vasundhara Raje expressed grief over the tragedy. She also sought a report on places where boating takes place. She asked the principal secretary, transport to ensure safety of people who have to use boats for transportation.

The mishap occurred around 9am. "The women were from nearby Kasir village and were on their way to work. They were using a boat to cross the Banas river when it capsized," said a police officer.

The officer said that there were 16 people on the boat, including 15 women labourers and the sailor. "The boat capsized when it was in the middle of the river. Ten women drowned and died, while six others, including the sailor managed to swim to the river bank," said the officer.

Senior police and administration officers rushed to the spot to launch a rescue operation. All the 10 bodies were fished out with help of villagers. The bodies were rushed to a government hospital for post-mortem.

As the news of the mishap spread like wildfire, villagers gathered at the hospital in huge numbers. They blocked a road outside the hospital and demanded compensation for the victims' families.

The villagers said that the mishap could have occurred due to fishing nets. "The boat may have got stuck in a fishing net and lost balance. Besides, it was a small boat carrying 16 people," said the officer.

Villagers said that similar mishap have occurred several times in the past, but the administration still does not bother to do verification of the boats' condition and safety measurements. The sailor do not have license and also do not carry life saving jackets.

District collector Dr Teena Kumar took a meeting of senior officers and instructed them to ensure that all safety measures are followed in the future.

Boating accidents are common in India because many ferries are poorly built and are often overcrowded and there is little regard for safety regulations.

Saturday 22 March 2014

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Pakistan: Accident on Quetta-Karachi highway leaves 38 dead

Two passenger coaches and two trucks collided on the Quetta-Karachi highway leaving at least 38 people dead and 15 others critically injured, Express News correspondent Shezad Baloch reported on Saturday.

The accident took place in the Gaddani area of Lasbela district and the injured were taken to hospitals in Hub as well as Karachi for medical assistance. Emergency was declared at the hospitals.

Women and children were among the deceased. Eidhi officials said that the incident occurred 12km away from Gaddani Morh.

One coach was on its way to Karachi from Quetta while the other was going to Karachi from Turbat.

After the collision, the vehicles had caught fire and were completely destroyed.

Deputy Commissioner Amir Sultan confirmed the death toll and said the number of the people killed may rise as most of the bodies were burnt beyond recognition.

“I do not think anyone escaped or is alive on the Turbat-Karachi bound bus,” he added.

The passenger bus was carrying illegal Iranian diesel and the collision with a truck lead to a huge explosion.

“Government of Balochistan will investigate the incident,” stated spokesperson of Balochistan government Jan Mohammed Buledi, adding that the government will compensate the grieving families.

“The passenger bus tried to overtake a vehicle and collided with a truck coming from the opposite direction. There was a huge explosion after the collision as the bus was carrying oil,” District Police Officer (DPO) Ahmed Nawaz Cheema told The Express Tribune.

Cheema added that at the same time another passenger bus coming to Karachi from Quetta collided with another truck at the same place, leaving two people dead.

The Turbat-Karachi bound bus was being driven by the conductor when the accident occurred, Express News reported. The coach driver was asleep in the back at that time, a doctor at the Civil Hospital in Karachi said.

Rescue operation is underway and none of the deceased have been identified as of yet. DNA samples will be sent to Islamabad for identification.

“The incident took place around 5 am. Rescue workers, police and fire tenders reached the scene soon,” said a rescue worker.

Chief Minister Balochistan Dr Malik Baloch ordered an inquiry into the incident. “It is a tragic incident and I extend my grief and sorrow with the grieving families,” he stated.

Saturday 22 March 2014

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