x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Crash victims' families could have wrong remains

Families might have claimed the wrong corpses after the Air India tragedy; fake passports may explain some cases.

Rescuers carry away a body at the site of the Air India Express crash at Mangalore on May 22.
Rescuers carry away a body at the site of the Air India Express crash at Mangalore on May 22.

DUBAI // The remains of 12 victims of last month's Air India Express crash have been laid to rest at a mass funeral after authorities failed to establish their identities. The group burial was performed after DNA tests conducted on the bodies did not match samples provided by families, authorities in India said. Dozens of families had filed complaints about missing relatives yet to be found and underwent DNA testing.

The crash of flight IX812 killed 158 people. "Out of the 22 bodies that underwent DNA tests, 10 bodies were identified and handed over to the families," said Prabhakar Sharma, the deputy police commissioner in Dakshina Kannada district, Mangalore. "However, the remaining 12 did not match with the samples provided by the families. Once the DNA test results were finalised, we had no reason to continue keeping the bodies."

More than 20 grieving families gathered for the funeral in the belief that their relative was among those being buried. Authorities conducted the ceremony at a religiously neutral venue and allowed families to perform their own rites before the burial. Families of the victims said the group burial added to the pain they were already facing. Mohammed Hanif, one among many mourners, said his 40-year-old nephew, Mohammed Bashir, remains unaccounted for.

"We tried very hard to get the body but nothing worked out," said Mr Hanif. "The wrong body was given out to many families initially and this is why we have not got our bodies. Now, it's too late. "We went for the funeral in the hope that he is among the 12 bodies and that his soul gets peace." Mr Hanif said that the confusion over the bodies was so painful that they kept it a secret from the victim's wife.

Mr Sharma admitted that there were lapses by the authorities in handing the situation. "Obviously, some families got the wrong bodies," he said. "There were 158 suffering families who arrived at the hospital to claim the bodies. Initially, we were not in a position to question them and ask them not to take the bodies. On the day of the crash we did not put strict parameters for collecting the body and that is probably where the confusion happened."

Mohammed Farhan, a Sharjah resident who lost seven relatives in the crash, was also distressed by the missing bodies. His cousins Zubair, three, and Zainab, five, died in the accident and their bodies were not identified. "We are tired of the confusion," he said. "Amidst the tragedy our family faced, it is too difficult to deal with this." There were 19 children on board the flight. Meanwhile, reports of some victims travelling on the ill-fated plane with fake passports complicated the situation. Questions are being raised if the failure to identify the bodies had to do with false passports and other forms of identification. Mr Sharma said that fake passports had not been ruled out and that investigations were continuing.

The Air India Express flight from Dubai to Mangalore, carrying 166 people, crashed on the morning of May 22 after it overshot the runway on arrival. The incident was one of the worst of its kind in India in recent times. @Email:pmenon@thenational.ae