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June 2, 2020

Families of plane crash victims get DNA results from Punjab Forensic Science Agency


June 2, 2020

Massive discrepancies on part of the Sindh government prompted families of the victims of the ill-fated Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight PK-8304 to collectively help each other in identifying bodies of their loved ones.

For this purpose, with the assistance of the PIA, the families started sending their DNA samples to the Punjab Forensic Science Agency (PFSA) in Lahore after collecting swabs on their own.

After the Sindh government left the families run from pillar to post in a complete administrative chaos, Arif Iqbal Faruqui, who lost his three children and wife in the incident, stood up not for himself but for all the victims.

Faruqui, a resident of Lahore, reached Karachi a day after the crash on May 23, recalls his brother-in-law Faziullah Jawad who lives in Karachi. On the same day, Jawad told The News that they had given their swab samples for the DNA to the International Centre for Chemical and Biological Sciences (ICCBS), the University of Karachi.

Until May 26, he pointed out that the ICCBS didn’t have samples and proper post-mortem number of all the bodies from the Sindh government. “The bodies of the victims were with Chipa and Edhi,” he said and explained that the two welfare organisations had a separate body count with them, while police had not issued any post-mortem number even four days after the crash.

When they raised their voices via social media, the authorities sprang into action and on May 28 the Karachi commissioner issued the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for the handover of bodies to the family members. The government was adamant that it would take at least 26 days to complete the DNA test, however, Jawad insisted that it hardly takes a day or two.

Meanwhile, he shared that a member of the PFSA visited Karachi to get DNA samples of the victims. “A family member of a high-level bureaucrat had died in the crash, for which the PFSA had collected samples of all the bodies,” he pointed out. “We knew that the PFSA had samples of all the victims with them, hence, we pressurised the ICCBS to hand over one of the samples of Faruqui to us, so we could dispatch it to Lahore,” he said, adding that initially the ICCBS blatantly refused, but later agreed as they pulled some strings.

Faruqui and Jawad then involved high-ups in the matter and took the PFSA and the PIA’s management onboard and reached out to help other family members and devised a process to transfer the DNA samples to Lahore.

Regarding the identification procedure, he said the family member was to give a DNA sample at the ICCBS to Dr Ishtiaque or one of his technicians. One of the samples was to be provided to the family member in a plain paper envelope, on which the family member was to write their full name, name of the victim and their NIC numbers. The sample was to be delivered to PIA’s focal person Nabeela at the Karachi Airport. The PIA’s cabin crew was to carry the samples to Lahore in whatever next flight available. DG Ashraf Tahir, he said, was personally looking into the matter on humanitarian grounds as there weren’t any directions from the Punjab government.

‘Body number’

Nosheen Tahir, wife of Nabeel Ahmed Idrees, lost her life in the plane crash. Unsatisfied with the performance of the ICCBS, Nabeel contacted the PFSA after which their team went to Gujranwala to get swab of Nosheen’s sister. Meanwhile, Nosheen’s father who is in Karachi had already given his swab sample to the ICCBS.

The family, according to Nabeel’s younger brother Mobin Idrees, received the body number 22547 as Nosheen’s body. When he went to Edhi to receive the body, family of one of the victims, Mehreen Danish, was already there for the same body.

The ICCBS had issued Danish’s brother Shehroz the similar body number: 22547. “Our result of the DNA was from Punjab,” said Mobin, adding that Shehroz also had doubts on the ICCBS’ results as they had already identified the body number 22548 as Danish’s body through jewellery, but wanted to confirm it through the DNA as well. Danish’s brother Shehroz told The News that they resent the DNA samples on their own to the PFSA for verification on May 31 (Sunday).

Families of one of the victims had arranged a buccal swab at his home. At around 5am, Shehroz and Mobin reached the family member who had buccal swab at his home for a fresh sample. “We learned it through Youtube how to gather DNA sample on a buccal swab,” shared Mobin adding that the next day he dispatched the samples of both the families to the PFSA through his cousin who was travelling to Lahore by air. On Monday at 10am the families had the result which corroborated PFSA’s earlier result. Both the families will offer final rituals today (Tuesday).

ICCBS’ statement

Meanwhile, the ICCBS in a press statement said that the Sindh Forensic DNA and Serology Laboratory (SFDL) at the ICCBS had completed the DNA-based identification of victims of PIA air crash.

A few cases where relatives have not contacted are pending and will be deciphered on the availability of reference samples. ICCBS Director Dr Iqbal Choudhary said: "As many as 69 samples have been received from the families of the victims, and 70 samples of the victims have also been received from the Police Department so far."

He said state-of-the-art machines and expertise were employed to complete “this huge work on a record time of eight days with 100 per cent accuracy”. He said the work included complete profiling over 69 relatives and over 50 bodies. He added: "It required matching of each DNA profile of deceased with all 69 references."