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: Sales Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss