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Indonesian Doctors Struggle to Identify Airplane Crash Victims


Forensic doctors are struggling to identify the bodies of at least 21 people killed when an Indonesian airplane skidded off the runway and exploded Wednesday. As Chad Bouchard reports from Yogyakarta, family members are helping to identify missing passengers as injured survivors recover from the harrowing disaster.

Investigators are picking through the charred wreckage of the Garuda 737-400 carrying 140 passengers, which was consumed in a fire early Wednesday. Officials say the cause of the crash is still unknown, but the airplane's in-flight recorder has been recovered, and is expected to be sent to Australia for investigation.

Meanwhile, hundreds of family members of the more than 20 dead passengers waited outside the forensic office of Sargito Hospital in Yogyakarta. Inside, medical teams are examining the remains of victims, some burned beyond recognition.

Members of the identification team explained that many of the bodies were burned at temperatures so high that elements normally used to identify remains, such as teeth, were destroyed.

Rinny Risakota, sister of one of the missing passengers, identified her brother among the bodies. She says it is difficult, but you have to control your feelings to make it easier to search the remains. Risakota says her husband helped her to remain calm, and she hopes now that they have identified her brother she can begin grieving.

Survivors of the crash have described violent shaking before the plane touched down, and say the plane was going unusually fast as it approached the runway.

Doctor Dwijo Susono sustained minor skull fractures and a concussion in the crash. He says the airplane shook just before landing, and then touched down hard and bounced off the tarmac before careening off the end of the runway.

"The flight was a little turbulent, and then the flight crashed down. By the grace of God I was still awake, and then I was really going out from the back door," he said. "The fire, I think, I saw after I was out from the aircraft. It is a traumatic situation, I think."

Australia has offered to send additional medical teams to help care for survivors. Wednesday, the Australian government sent a team of specialists to help identify the victims.

Wednesday's explosion marks Indonesia's third airplane crash since January 1. The incidents have raised questions about observance of the country's aircraft maintenance and safety regulations, and the Indonesian president has ordered an investigation.