DNA examination of the victims of last Sunday’s crash involving Dana airline commenced, yesterday, amid protests by friends and relations of the 52 identifiable bodies over the slow nature of the forensic processes at the Department of the Pathology & Forensic Medicine of the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH.
The mild protest ensued following what they described as “slow processes” in collecting the necessary specimen for the DNA analysis. According to the families, the process which was supposed to start as early as 8:00 am did not begin until about 9:30 am.
A friend of one of the victims, Mr Gbenga Eguntola, said the forensic process started behind schedule. According to him, “we have been here since morning. They have scheduled 36 families for the DNA, but since 9:30 am, the first two families that were called in for the process were yet to come out at about 1 pm.”
Some of relative checking the list of the Dana air crash at the Lagos state University Teaching Hospital [LASUTH
Eguntola said he was at the mortuary in connection with the late spokesman of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Dr. Levi Ajuonuma, who died in the crash.
However, it took the intervention of the Chief Medical Director and the Chief Medical Examiner, Prof. John Obafunwa to calm the families.
Chief Medical Director, Prof. David Wale Oke, however, explained to the relations why they have to be patient with the hospital and the government in the ongoing processes.
Addressing the families inside the Lekan Ogunsola Crisis Centre, Oke explained the various steps that were being taken to ensure that the processes were hitch-free.
Confirming the protests to Vanguard, the Chief Medical Director, who said none of the bodies would be released yet, announced that the DNA examination would take between four to six weeks to be concluded.
Oke said: “The problem we may have is about the bodies that are unidentifiable. If you can’t get the genetic mark, you can say ‘A belongs to B.’ So those will probably take up to six weeks to be concluded because we are going to take the tissues outside the country.”
“All the bodies recovered must undergo DNA analysis. The entire specimen submitted will be taken out of the country in conjunction with the tissue of the deceased because it has to be matched. We are hoping that in the next four to six weeks commencing after sending the specimen, our results will be back. The plan is to send the specimen in batches. But we are still collating the specimen.”
On why the test may not be completed within two weeks as earlier promised, Oke said: “We were at the first instance thinking that as soon as we conclude the autopsy, we will release them, but we had a meeting with the Attorney General of the state, the insurers of Dana, the Ministry of Health in Lagos, Dana and all agreed that because the matter of claims that will come up, we have to do the DNA whether they (the bodies) are recognisable or not.”
To that effect, he said the hospital was putting up a paper, with regards to those victims that are identifiable and listing names of those people claiming to be their relations so that people who are contesting that could come up with their complaints.
He added that another reason why this was necessary was to ensure that the hospital did not give a body to the wrong family.
“As of now, we have done 20 autopsies. We want to be sure that no litigation comes to LASUTH,” he said.
Giving the details of the DNA processes, Oke said, “We are asking the mother and father of the deceased preferably, to come so that we can take the specimen from both.
“In the absence of those parents, siblings, that is, the brother and sister and in the absence of these four, specimen would be taken from the children.”
On the importance of taking specimen from both the victim’s father and mother, Oke said the father and mother are closer to the individual in terms of the genetic materials than the siblings because it is the genetic materials of the mother and father that make up a child.
“Ideally, if we have the father and mother, we are likely to get a perfect match,” said Oke, adding, “The match becomes less perfect as you go down the terrain, that is siblings and children. “
On how specimens will be taken, he explained: “The specimen we are taking is a simple smear. There is a smear stick that has cotton wool at the end of it that we are going to put in the mouth and swoop the mouth and in the process get cells from the individual. It is non invasive. There will be no blood taken.
Oke said photographs of the relation donating the smear would be taken because the image of the person’s face may be required in the long term to match up with the picture of the diseased.
According to him, “we are also taking dental chart. All corpses whether they are recognisable or not will be x-rayed. We are going to x-ray all the limbs, anywhere there is fracture. We are going to x-ray the jaw, the skull. Whether they are identifiable or not we are going to do that. Then, tissues are going to be taken from the bodies so that we can match these up from the samples we are collecting from relations.”
The LASUTH CMD also explained that the result of the autopsy could also give an insight into the cause of the crash if the bodies of the crew members which is another problem now are properly identified.
“Once we sort out the identifiable bodies, it means that all of them will come in four to six weeks. We have got their phone numbers anyway. If by any chance we collect the results before then, we are going to get in contact with all of them.
“We cannot release the bodies because there is a matter of the crew members which we have to identify because the crew of the plane has to undergo specific tests. We want to make sure that the crew are not intoxicated and not using any drugs as about the time of accident and that whoever we are calling the crew are the right people.”