Jakarta, Indonesia – Yudi Qurbani has spent the last few days in an unexpected and unwanted role.
He became the family representative at the Disaster Victim Identification Center (DVI) of the Kramat Jati Police Hospital in Jakarta, coordinating with the team trying to locate his five family members who were on Sriwijaya Air flight SJ182 which crashed in the Java Sea. en route from Jakarta to Pontianak to Kalimantan on January 9.
“We know there is very little chance that they will be found alive now, so our last hope is that we can get their bodies or body parts back for burial,” he told Al Jazeera.
Authorities have identified four victims of the crash, including a cabin crew member, but the identification process has been hampered by the condition of many bodies. In addition to finding one of the flight recorders known as the ‘black box’, Indonesian search and rescue teams also found the aircraft wreckage, intact corpses and ‘body parts’ .
Qurbani’s five family members who were on the plane were his aunt and uncle, Rahmawati and Toni Ismail, his cousin Ratih Windania and his four-year-old daughter Yumna Fani Syatuzahr, and his eight-year-old nephew Athar Rizki Riawan, with whom he was particularly close.
The extended family was traveling to visit other relatives in Bandung and Jakarta during the New Year holidays. Athar’s parents (Qurbani’s sister and brother-in-law) had stayed in Pontianak.
“As a family, we will be happy if the bodies can be found so that we can bury them, although it is a little hope. I would love to see them if they are found, but I think it would be better if the parents didn’t. I would love to see them to be sure, ”Qurbani said.
According to Dr Richard Bassed, senior forensic odontologist at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine and head of the forensic pathology department at Monash University, Interpol’s standard DVI process consists of five phases, including recovering the body on the places, the mortuary examination, the post-mortem collection of data from living relatives, reconciliation and debriefing. “The time taken varies greatly depending on the individual circumstances of the tragedy,” he told Al Jazeera.
“It depends on body condition, location, availability of forensic experts, logistics and funding. One thing to note is that Interpol states that under no circumstances should visual recognition be used to confirm identity, as too many mistakes have been made in the past. “
Part of the post-mortem team at Kramat Jati Police Hospital, Dr Laura, who prefers not to disclose her full name, is responsible for collecting all available data from families who can help identify loved ones . This includes dental records, fingerprints, medical records, DNA samples taken from blood and oral samples, and the description of any identifying features such as scars or tattoos.
“Basically we use anything and everything to identify people,” she told Al Jazeera. “It includes things that we can find with the bodies, like identity documents in wallets or pockets. We are working as quickly as possible with the information we have. We hope this ends as soon as possible. “
Dr Laura declined to say which body parts were found at the crash site, but Dr Bassed told Al Jazeera the term can refer to “from large pieces like limbs to fragments. of bones and flesh ”and that“ parts of the body create a lot of problems when trying to match individual parts to one person. The only way to be absolutely certain is to use DNA, which is expensive and time consuming. “
Dr Bassed added that the condition of the bodies depends on many factors, including whether the plane was on fire and the speed at which it was traveling.
Qurbani’s family are well aware of what this could mean.
“The DVI team have not yet told us what body parts they found in the crash. But we saw the pieces of the plane that were recovered, so logically the bodies must be in the same condition. We think it will be difficult to find intact bodies, ”Qurbani said.
Perhaps due to Indonesia’s poor aviation record and frequent natural disasters such as tsunamis and other events such as fires, Indonesian DVI teams are no stranger to trying to identify casualties under circumstances. difficult.
Pressure for results
Dr Bassed has worked with Indonesian DVI teams in both massacre events and training and told Al Jazeera they are well trained and well prepared.
“They came to Australia and helped us during the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009 and were extremely helpful,” he said.
“The main problem is the insistence of the community, politicians and relatives that IDs be completed quickly, which often means that visual identification and other less robust means are used and that errors can be committed. It is not specific to Indonesia, but to many countries. “
For his part, Qurbani says he is only focusing on the search and identification process for now and agrees that authorities need time to find the reason for the crash and reunite families with loved ones. In the meantime, however, his mind frequently returns to his last days with Athar, who stayed home for two weeks before the flight and spent time playing with his cousins.
“I was going to drive him to the airport, but I had to take my children to the doctor. I feel like if I had known what was going to happen, I would have done my best to make him as happy as possible. He was so happy and so much fun. He made everyone around him happy and uplifted the atmosphere everywhere he went.
“I still cannot understand this situation,” he said. “It’s like he’s still there, in my house, like a shadow.