Former Head of DNA Laboratory of Pudokkes (Indonesian Police Center for Medical and Health Service), Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) Team at National Police Headquarters, Drs. Putu T. Widodo, DFM, M.Sc., said that one of the keys in identifying plane crash victims was by comparing antemortem and postmortem data. If the two data match, the victim’s identity will be easier to reveal. If not, the data must be re-collected. “If these two data are not available, surely the victim could not be identified,” said Putu Widodo in a webinar organized by Faculty of Biology UGM entitled DNA Testing in the Identification of Plane Crash Victims, Monday (18/1).
According to the Faculty of Biology UGM alumnus, comparing victims’ postmortem and antemortem data is the best step. It eases the identification of plane crash victims based on his experience in handling several aircraft accidents, such as the burning Garuda plane at Yogyakarta Adisucipto airport in 2007, the Adam Air plane crash in the Makassar Strait in 2007, the AirAsia crash around Pangkalan Bun, Central Kalimantan in 2014, and the Lion Air crash in the Java Sea in 2018. However, up to this point, there has not been much study on antemortem data collection since finding victims sample data while they were still alive is not easy. “The challenge is much bigger. We have to meet the victims’ family or best friends and know where their home or hangout is,” he said.
When identifying victims, the DVI team always uses five data sources: fingerprints, odontology, DNA, medical data, and victims’ property. Especially for fingerprints, said Widodo, to find complete fingerprint data of victims who are under 17 years of age is difficult as they do not have a KTP (identity card) yet. It also applies to odontological data since some dentists don’t always keep their patients’ teeth records. “It’s hard to get (the dental data and under 17 aged victims’ fingerprints),” he said.
In terms of medical data, they are taken from the appearance of bones, tattoos, or having had postoperative defects. Furthermore, property data are taken from items that the victims brought or frequently used. “We obtain data from items brought or left by the victims. Who knows that these items contain DNA. There are many DNA sources from which we can take the data, for example, unwashed clothes at home. We can even take DNA samples from unwashed collars,” he said.
Regarding DNA identification, the DVI team generally must know the victims’ family tree revealed by the informant, who is a close relative of the victims. “If the family can convey DNA to the DVI, the body can likely be returned to the correct family,” he explained.
Genetics and Forensic Researcher at the Faculty of Biology UGM, Dr. Niken Saputri Nur Handayani, explained the identification of victims through DNA was by matching DNA data taken from the closest family, namely parents, children, or siblings. “The DNA profile of close relatives is likely to be close to the victims’ compared to distant family members’,” she said.
She explained that DNA samples taken from plane crash victims, whether intact or not, were generally from the victims’ arm muscle tissue, bone parts, or parts of the molar tooth, which are considered the best DNA sources due to the minimal exposure from the outside environment. On the other hand, the DNA source taken from the family is from the body part of the tissue that has core cells, namely white blood cells.
Author: Gusti Grehenson