MH17 crash: Experts say process will be challenging owing to condition of bodies

MH17 crash: Experts say process will be challenging owing to condition of bodies
A pro-Russian rebel touches the MH17 wreckage at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, near the village of Hrabove, eastern Ukraine.

UTRECHT - The disaster victim identification (DVI) process was always going to be a complex one.

It has become even more challenging because many of the MH17 victims' remains were not intact, said Malaysian team leader Dr Mohd Shah Mahmood.

The consultant forensic pathologist is leading the team of 21 experts in the DVI process.

"The process also depends on the condition of the bodies. For example, a special technique is required to obtain fingerprints from a body that has already undergone some decomposition," he said, adding that he had observed a mix of fresh remains and those in moderate to advanced stages of decomposition.

Dr Mohd Shah hoped the DVI process would be completed in two to three weeks' time.

He added that an estimated 20 to 25 cases a day was processed and the cases could involve a complete body, body fragment or just a lump of tissue.

"Let's say that if the process is almost complete but a hand is missing, the authorities will not be keen to release it.

"What if they manage to find the hand after that? How will they return it? This is the part causing delays," he told reporters here on Sunday.

Dr Mohd Shah said that when the body bags were opened at Hilversum medical military base, the teams would first determine if the remains were human or not, and if fragmented, whether they came from more than one individual.

He said they would look for tissue that was fresh enough to conduct DNA sampling, as well as for any fragments which could be used by forensic odontologists in dental identification.

He said the forensic experts at Hilversum were solely in charge of obtaining post-mortem information about the victims, including fingerprint, dental and DNA samples.

"The process of reconciliation, which is matching the post-mortem data with ante-mortem (before death) data will be done at central headquarters in The Hague," he said.

Meanwhile, Dutch police chief Gerard Bouman was quoted in an AFP report that it might not be possible to recover all remains from the crash site given the fighting in the area.

"I would love to give a guarantee that all the remains will come back but ... I believe the chances are not very good that we will get them all," he said in a briefing to parliament in The Hague.

Separately, Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam in a press statement yesterday said the Government was exploring all possible avenues in order to expedite the DVI process.

He will be heading to the Netherlands today as part of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak's multi-ministerial delegation there.

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