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Grieving relatives identify plane crash bodies

Latest update : 2008-08-22

Grieving relatives of the 153 victims of Wednesday's Spanair plane crash in Madrid struggled to identify the remains of family members, in the wake of Spain's worst aviation accident in 25 years.

Read our correspondent's story "Spanish press questions Spanair's responsibility in Madrid crash"
   
A steady stream of family members of the 153 victims of the Spanair plane crash in Madrid poured into an improvised morgue on Thursday to begin the grim process of identifying their loved ones.
   
Some arrived by car, many more arrived at the sprawling convention centre near the airport in buses provided by Spain's second-biggest air carrier.
   
But according to psychologist Juan Mari Urruzuno, one of 300 volunteers on hand to help the families cope, almost all posed the same question: "Why did this happen to us?".
   
"They are still in a phase where they do not believe it, they are still not reacting," he said at the convention centre, which was also used as a morgue after the 2004 Madrid train bombings that killed 191 people.
   
"Slowly they are realizing the magnitude of what happened," he added.
   
Only 19 of the 172 passengers on board Spanair flight JK 5022 survived Wednesday's crash, making it Spain's worst aviation accident in 25 years.
   
Some distraught family members of the victims had to lean on volunteers or other family members to make it into the centre to begin the process of identifying their loved ones.
   
"They don't have strength for almost anything," said the spokesman for the Spanish Red Cross, Miguel Angel Rodriguez.
   
"Fortunately there are people who break into tears, this is positive," he added. "The worst is probably when people do not externalize it. Many end up in absolute silence, they are quiet, waiting for information to give others."
   
The remains are being identified using fingerprints and DNA tests, Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa de la Vega told a news conference.
   
Fifty-nine people could be identified using fingerprints while the remaining 94 victims will need to identified by a DNA match with their relatives as they are charred beyond recognition, she said.
   
"We prepare them for what they are going to see. Normally people expect to see their relatives in a much better state than that which they may be in," said Urruzuno.
   
He said emergency services had learned valuable lessons in how to deal with a tragedy involving dozens of victims in the aftermath of the 2004 commuter train bombings carried out by Islamic militants.
   
"Things have been improved and we picked up good habits," he said, adding psychologists had trained by carrying out role playing exercises with actors.
   
Rodriguez said Wednesday night "had been especially hard for relatives who arrived without any information".
   
Spain's King Juan Carlos and his wife Queen Sofia visited the conference centre to support the families and encourage the teams of psychologists.
   
"It is a bit distressing," said social worker Carlos Macias who came from the western province of Extremadura near the Portuguese border to aid the relatives of the victims.
   
The Spanish government has declared three days of official mourning which will begin on Friday, de la Vega said.

Date created : 2008-08-22

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