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Disaster Victim Identification: New Applications for Postmortem Computed Tomography

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Mass fatalities can present the forensic anthropologist and forensic pathologist with a different set of challenges to those presented by a single fatality. To date radiography has played an important role in the disaster victim identification (DVI) process. The aim of this paper is to highlight the benefits of applying computed tomography (CT) technology to the DVI process. The paper begins by reviewing the extent to which sophisticated imaging techniques, specifically CT, have been increasingly used to assist in the analysis of deceased individuals. A small scale case study is then presented which describes aspects of the DVI process following a recent Australian aviation disaster involving two individuals. Having grided the scene of the disaster, a total of 41 bags of heavily disrupted human remains were collected. A postmortem examination was subsequently undertaken. Analysis of the CT images of all body parts (n = 162) made it possible not only to identify and side differentially preserved skeletal elements which were anatomically unrecognizable in the heavily disrupted body masses, but also to observe and record useful identifying features such as surgical implants. In this case the role of the forensic anthropologist and CT technology were paramount in facilitating a quick identification, and subsequently, an effective and timely reconciliation, of body parts. Although this case study is small scale, it illustrates the enormous potential for CT imaging to complement the existing DVI process.
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Keywords: computed tomography; disaster victim identification; forensic anthropology; forensic science

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Centre for Human Identification, Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine/Department of Forensic Medicine, Monash University, 3006 Vic., Australia. 2: Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine/Department of Forensic Medicine, Monash University, 3006 Vic., Australia. 3: Disaster Victim Identification/Chemical, Biological & Radiological Crime Scene Unit, Macleod, Vic., Australia.

Publication date: July 1, 2008

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