Identification by DNA analysis of the victims of the August 1996 Spitsbergen civil aircraft disaster

Nat Genet. 1997 Apr;15(4):402-5. doi: 10.1038/ng0497-402.


Disaster victim identification traditionally relies on the combined efforts of police, dentists and pathologists, comparing ante mortem (AM) information from the missing persons with post mortem (PM) data from the dead bodies. In Western countries, dental evidence has ordinarily played the major role. DNA analysis has been used successfully in a number of large accidents to associate body parts and for purposes of identification, by comparing victims' DNA profiles with those of relatives. However, DNA typing is still not generally regarded as an essential part of disaster victim identification. Facing the August 1996 Spitsbergen aircraft accident in which 141 Russians and Ukrainians died and anticipating scanty ante mortem dental data, it was decided to use DNA profile analysis as the primary identification method. Material collected at the scene from all body parts, and blood sample from relatives were analysed at eight polymorphic microsatellite and minisatellite loci, DNA profile comparisons enabled us to sort the 257 typed body parts into 141 individuals, as well as identifying the 139 victims for whom reference samples were available. Identification by DNA analysis was then followed by comparisons of traditional AM and PM data, and within day 20 of the accident the identities of all victims were confidently established. This investigation indicates that it might be feasible to replace traditional identification efforts with DNA typing.

MeSH terms

  • Aircraft*
  • Child
  • DNA Fingerprinting / methods*
  • Disasters*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Svalbard