Magharebia (Washington DC)

6 August 2014

Algeria: Air Algerie Crash Investigators Turn to DNA

Algiers — Algerian forensic specialists arrived in Paris on Monday (August 4th) with more unidentified remains from the recent Air Algerie plane crash.

The police analysts wrapped up work at the crash site in northern Mali's Gossi region on Saturday, allowing them to head to an advanced DNA lab in France, according to Algerian Judicial Police Chief Abdelkader Kara Bouhadba.

The Air Algerie plane MD-83 leased from Spanish company Swiftair disappeared July 24th in bad weather less than an hour after leaving Ouagadougou for a 4-hour flight to Algiers.

All 116 passengers and crew aboard the craft died in the crash. The victims were from Algeria, France, Spain, Lebanon and Burkina Faso. Algerian authorities said they would compensate victims' families and assist with funeral arrangements.

Investigators spent a week examining the plane debris. They collected more than 1,200 remains.

The identification of victims "could take weeks, months and maybe years," Bouhadba said. "The important thing is to find the truth."

"Many of the samples of bodies that were taken from the scene are unusable due to weather conditions and the strong impact of the plane crash that turned bodies into remains," the police chief said.

"This process is a humanitarian priority for us," he added.

DNA testing will be used to identify the victims' remains, said Ali Feragui, deputy head of the Algerian forensic police.

"We realised right away that we would have to go straight to DNA analysis," AFP quoted Colonel Patrick Touron of the French gendarmerie's Criminal Research Institute as saying.

"We saw that we had no intact bodies... just very badly broken bodies, which weren't identifiable using the classic forensic methods, dental records and fingerprints," he explained.

The families of the six Algerians killed in the crash were asked to provide DNA samples, in order to match them to remains collected from the crash site.

As to the cause of the crash, all signs point to bad weather.

According to Burkinabe radar, the pilot changed course in the middle of a storm, causing the plane to fall from a height of 10,000 metres in just three minutes.

Mohamed Mechta, a civil aviation advisor, said the flight crew's inexperience might have contributed to the disaster.

"Lack of knowledge about this air route may be the only justification for why the plane entered into the storm," he told Magharebia. "It's unnatural that a pilot enters an area of air turbulence in this way; the pilot might have run into the very storm he wanted to avoid."

This kind of weather poses a great danger, especially if the plane is inside the storm, Mechta said.

"In such cases, the plane experiences violent vibrations and can lose balance, and fall in less than one minute," he added. "That might have been the horrible scenario for the passengers."

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