Home' The Wellingtonian : June 23rd 2011 Contents JUNE 23, 2011
CONTACT US Editorial inquiries: 474 0147
Delivery complaints: 474 0266
Classified advertising: 473 9999
Display advertising: 474 036
8 Turnbull pic 10-11 Opinion 12 Wellingtonian interview
16 Dining 17-18 Arts
CUPS FOR A CAUSE
from the old
Fever Hospital 5
The long road to identifying
Chch earthquake victims
Emotional job: Inspector Mike Wright has been helping the families of victims of Christchurch's February earthquake. Photo: REBECCA THOMSON
By REBECCA THOMSON
Inspector Mike Wright makes no apologies
for the length of time it has taken to ident-
ify victims of the Christchurch earthquake.
Four months after the February 22
earthquake, the process is nearly complete.
Just four of the 181 victims remain
Mr Wright is the Wellington Police dis-
trict operations services manager and
oversees groups such as search and rescue
and the police maritime unit.
He was appointed to manage the victim
identification team responsible for
identifying earthquake victims.
There is a huge sense of satisfaction
being involved in such a big event. Every-
one -- police, military, coronal -- really
pitched in and gave 110 per cent,'' he said.
The national disaster victim identifi-
cation team swung into action shortly after
Mr Wright arrived in Christchurch at
3.20am after the earthquake, and went
straight to the red zone. He met with the
Canterbury district commander, the Can-
terbury coroner and members of the disas-
ter victim identification team.
Two of his Australian colleagues had
arrived by then and Christchurch staff
were also there.
It was just organised chaos,'' he said.
The tension around the CTV building was
particularly high. People had been texting
from inside that site, so they [search and
rescue] knew people were potentially alive.
The place was constantly shaking [from
aftershocks] and there were all the things
you get with the smoke and fire.''
More than 100 victim identification
specialists were pulled in from around New
Zealand, including police fingerprint
specialists, forensic pathologists, odontolog-
ists (forensic dentists), forensic
anthropologists and DNA scientists.
By March 4, more than 320 national and
international personnel were working long
hours to identify victims.
The Australian contingent was the
largest, with specialists arriving from every
state, said Mr Wright.
New Zealand is a member of the
Australasian Victim Identification Com-
mittee and specialists from both countries
have worked together before, including dur-
ing the 2008 Victorian bushfires and the
2009 Samoan tsunami.
Specialists also arrived from China,
Israel, Thailand, Japan, Korea, Singapore,
the United States and Britain.
It was a totally international response,''
said Mr Wright. You have to remember
victims were from the Philippines, Iraq,
Japan, China, Spain, Australia, Canada,
the USA, Taiwan, Thailand, Ireland,
Northern Ireland, Guernsey, South Korea
That has made it hard, too, because
some of those countries don't hold dental
Mr Wright said the identification process
was delicate and all victims were handled
Procedures for this sort of thing were
decided during [the] Erebus [disaster] and
that's the benchmark we use.''
Search and rescue teams recovered
bodies and took them to Christchurch cen-
tral police station's temporary mortuary,
where initial paperwork was filled out. The
bodies and remains were taken to Burnham
Military Camp, where a morgue had been
Identification was carried out in three
main phases -- ante-mortem, post-mortem
During the post-mortem phase a body is
examined in detail by a pathologist, foren-
sic dentist, fingerprint officer and member
of the disaster victim identification team.
Personal effects, such as jewellery and
clothing, are photographed in situ, and any
peculiarities, such as birthmarks, are
Victims undergo the least invasive post-
mortem possible, so first we'll look for obvi-
ous signs. For argument's sake, a woman
may have had ovaries removed or some sur-
gical operation, such as a hip or knee
During the next phase, interviewers
talked to families and police gathered cloth-
ing, jewellery, medical and dental records,
fingerprints and DNA samples from hairb-
rushes, toothbrushes and other items.
In an ideal world you want fingerprint
or DNA evidence. It's emotionally draining
for everyone involved to interview the fam-
ilies,'' said Mr Wright.
Information from the post-mortem and
ante-mortem stages were then reconciled to
find a match, and the coroner was
Mr Wright said the easiest identifications
were carried out first, and many victims
were identified within five days.
We were flat tack. The first week the
average day started at 7am and finished at
10pm, but on top of that there were person-
nel at the sites working around the clock for
three or four days.
It becomes emotionally tiring because of
the sheer volume and it really sucks the
juices out of you, especially when you get
down to fragments and you don't know
what you're looking at. But you all look
after each other.
All of us exist to bring closure to the
families. It's the thing that drives you to
Links Archive June 16th 2011 June 30th 2011 Navigation Next Page