Victims' remains may take months to identify

Posted: Monday, February 07, 2000

PORT HUENEME, Calif. - Families of victims killed in the Alaska Airlines crash may have to wait at least six months for officials to identify remains from their loved ones.

The National Transportation Safety Board said Sunday it could be midsummer before DNA tests confirm the identities of the partial human remains that Navy crews are collecting as they map and videotape the ocean floor near the crash site.

The process of identifying victims of Alaska Airlines Flight 261 is ``definitely one of their main concerns at this time,'' NTSB family liaison Lauren Peduzzi said.

Ventura County sheriff's spokesman Eric Nishimoto said that out of the partial human remains recovered, a few dozen are possibly identifiable through dental records, distinguishing marks or personal property such as wallets.

``It is an exceptionally difficult process to identify the remains, even by conventional means, given the severe trauma to the plane, passengers and the passengers' personal effects,'' Nishimoto said.

``Currently, there have been no fully intact remains recovered,'' Nishimoto said.

However, the Ventura County Medical Examiner's Office, which is responsible for identifying the victims, has said it has several nearly complete bodies. None has yet been identified.

Five of the crash's victims were from Alaska.

After a week of grieving, family and friends of the victims began packing Sunday to return home and wait out the investigation. The probe itself is now being coordinated from Washington, D.C., where the flight data and cockpit voice recorders are being analyzed.

Also Sunday, more memorials were held. Among them was a service by Cardinal Roger Mahony, archbishop of Los Angeles, who led a service near Los Angeles International Airport.

The Alaska Airlines MD-83 crashed last Monday, killing all 88 people on board, during a flight from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to San Francisco and Seattle. The plane was attempting to make an emergency landing at Los Angeles.

Before any pieces of the plane are brought to the surface, the NTSB wants a detailed picture of how the wreckage is distributed on the ocean floor. Spokesman Keith Holloway said the agency will decide exactly what will be hauled up after a review of the reams of video footage.

The debris area is about 10 miles offshore in the Santa Barbara Channel, covering an area about the size of a football field in water 640 feet deep.

The plane's voice recorder shows that for at least 30 minutes prior to the crash, the pilots were struggling to correct a problem with the tail-mounted horizontal stabilizer, which they said had jammed.

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