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Germanwings Crash: DNA Experts Work to Identify Victims

The grim task of recovering and identifying the 150 bodies intensified after relatives provided DNA samples.
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/ Source: NBC News

SEYNE-LES-ALPES, France — Jewelry and pieces of clothing were being removed from Germanwings crash victims on Friday and helicoptered out, police said Friday, as forensics teams ramped up DNA testing.

The grim task of recovering and identifying the 150 bodies intensified after relatives provided DNA samples in emergency tents set up near the crash site in a remote corner of the French Alps. The Germanwings flight smashed into the ground at 430 mph on Tuesday, pulverizing the wreckage.

“Intense efforts continue today to recover bodies and evidence for identification of victims,” French police spokesman Lt. Col. Xavier Vielenc told reporters at a staging site near the town of Seyne-Sur-Alpes. “Investigators are bringing back anything that can help to identify victims such as jewelry, pieces of clothing.”

He said four helicopters were flying 15 investigators to the mountainside where the Airbus A320 crashed, with each investigator was accompanied by police officer.

“Each team of two is dropped down into the crash site— like a buddy system in diving,” Vielenc explained. “It is an 80 meter [260 feet] drop to the crash site by winch from the helicopter."

Ten of the 15 investigators are dedicated to DNA analysis, he said. Six more workers are responsible for transferring bodies and evidence back to the Post Command Operations site where tents have been erected for recovery teams and counselors.

Victims' relatives — who on Thursday attended a memorial service and visited the area of the crash — "gave DNA in these tents last night,” he said.

Thirty forensic experts from the national French police service, IRCGN, are working in the tents, Vielenc added. Interpol has said its experts are assisting.

In the town of Le Vernet, a shrine set up by residents in memory of the victims was visited by a young Spanish couple who laid single flowers and a bouquet offered by officials from the Spanish embassy.

The mayor, Francois Baliquette, said the town "belonged" to the victims' families and that 19 of them had decided to stay on in the area after Thursday's visit.

"They can come when they like," he said. "We will accept them when they want. They are friends, sisters, mothers. They need to come here. They ask to come here. No problem."



— Nancy Ing, Bill Neely, Carol Marquis and Alastair Jamieson