British student tells of morgue horror

War on terrorism: Medicine

Ian Herbert,North
Monday 03 March 2014 03:11

If New York's central mortuary offered student placements in August, Oliver Monfredi, a Leeds University medic, would not have been in its main autopsy theatre at 9.10am on 11 September. It doesn't. He was.

Los Angeles – the only residency available in August – had already provided a shattering daily experience of 50 autopsies and 15 or so suspicious deaths before Mr Monfredi arrived in New York for a September "wind-down". He became one of the few Britons on the front line of immediate salvage efforts.

Although a 23-year-old with no pathology experience before the summer, Mr Monfredi was asked to find distinguishing features from bodies and body parts. "Detecting a scar to the groin, a tattoo to the abdomen meant people knowing that someone was dead and a funeral," he said. Taking photos of a child from a victim's wallet was "as low as it got".

That morning there had been only two autopsy cases when a technician and known practical joker said a plane had hit the World Trade Centre. When it became clear he was serious, the thought in the room was "it's going to be a light plane, a two-seater", said Mr Monfredi.

The first examinations were concluded in 15 eerie minutes. "I thought they were going to arrive with a truck full of victims but never did," he said. "There were four [victims], then two, then two. When firemen began carrying dead firemen in, I finally felt like a foreigner."

He now plans a career in obstetrics, rather than pathology. "I've seen enough to last a lifetime," he said.

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