Saturday, August 16, 2003

The New York City medical examiner's office, using DNA analysis, has managed to identify slightly more than half of the 2,792 people killed in the attack on the WTC towers, and it is feared that the remains of as many as 1,000 victims may never be identified. Given the fire and collapse of the two towers, this is not surprising. What is surprising is the contrast between the DNA identification process in New York and the DNA identification process that took place with respect to the victims of the Pentagon crash. Again, there was an horrific crash and a terrible fire, but authorities report that they identified remains of 184 (or here) people who were aboard Flight 77 or inside the Pentagon, including those of the five hijackers, but could not match the other remains with any of five people who were also known to be on the flight. In fact, the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology claims to have identified the remains of all but one of the passengers on Flight 77. If they achieve their goals, the New York investigators hope to achieve a 65% rate of identification. That is in a situation where many bodies were found intact as many of the victims died due to the collapse of the buildings and not due to fire. Identifying 184 out of 189 Pentagon victims is a 97% success rate in a case where we are to believe that heat was sufficient to vaporize the fuselage and engines of the plane, a vaporization needed to explain the almost complete absence of wreckage left behind of the plane, but not degrade the DNA of the passengers inside the plane. How do we reconcile a 50% rate of identification in New York, or 65% if they achieve their goals, with a 97% identification rate in Washington, especially where much of the DNA obtained in Washington had to be obtained from the area where the fuselage surrounding the passengers was before it was vaporized by the heat?