Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Delays, interference and ineptitude are worst enemies of the forensic expert

 

Disaster victim identification is a difficult task, but will be made even more challenging in the MH17 case, given the delays in body recovery and interference at the crash site.

Australia has some of the best forensic experts in the world, but they have been sidelined, with no access to the crash site or victims due to political obstruction.

The most important phase of an identification operation is the recovery phase, which should be conducted by highly trained police and scientific officers. This involves thorough documentation, preservation and collection of bodies, personal property and other forensic evidence at the disaster site. If the highest possible quality standards are not implemented at this stage of the identification operation, it may significantly delay or prevent accurate identification.

It appears that the site has been contaminated and vital evidence has been removed. Untrained searchers may not recognise items of forensic value to collect or overlook smaller body parts.

Each item of property and body part should be given a unique identifying number at the crash site before removal, which should stay with it throughout the identification process. This forms a chain of continuity that prevents loss or destruction of bodies and items and maintains the value of forensic evidence.

 

The MH17 disaster will require forensic experts to conduct autopsies and fingerprint, dental and DNA analysis of the victims, and compare the evidence with records such as dental charts, medical records, personal photographs and fingerprints from personal belongings. As the remains of victims deteriorated in fields, vital forensic clues would start to disappear such as fingerprints, tattoos, scars, birthmarks and the opportunity for visual identification.

Over the past 20 years, DNA has been used in disasters such as the World Trade Center attacks and the Bali Bombings, and technologies have improved much over time. DNA samples should be taken of all bodies and body parts recovered from the MH17 crash site so that these can be compared with DNA from the victim’s personal items or their close relatives. The delay in recovering the bodies should not have an impact on obtaining DNA profiles from bone samples, but it will significantly limit DNA profiling from blood and soft tissue.

Video: Personal belongings of passengers have been removed from scene

The explosion and fire is another challenge for forensic experts. The associated heat and destructive forces of the initial explosion and resulting crash will have made the bodies more difficult to recover and identify. Despite the successful use of forensic science in many disasters, there is always the possibility that not all victims can be identified.

© Washington Post

Kirsty Wright is forensic biologist and senior lecturer at Griffith University, Australia

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This design and print company a...

Recruitment Genius: Lift and Elevator Contract Manager - London

£38000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Engineer - OTE £40,000

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Engineer is required to...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Hull - £32,000

£30000 - £32000 per annum + £4200 car allowance: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Suppo...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence