When Karnataka Home Minister V S Acharaya called Dr Mohandas K Bhandary, president of the Mangalore chapter of the Indian Medical Association, on Saturday morning, Dr Bhandary had not yet got news of the horrific air crash. He was then tasked with the grim duty of helping relatives identify the bodies of the victims.
Dr Bhandary would spend the next 48 hours at the government-run Wenlock Hospital helping authorities and relatives. Dr Bhandary and his team helped relatives identify 136 victims.
"We identified bodies using their physical features, wallets, passports, mangalsutras, watches and even mobile phones. Some phones even rang while we were trying to identify the victims," Dr Bhandary said.
What made Dr Bhandary's task even harder was the fact that he personally knew some of the victims.
"There were three victims of a family that I know for several decades. I helped the relatives find their bodies. Fortunately they could be easily identified," he said
But despite their best efforts, 22 bodies have yet not been conclusively identified and their DNA samples (along with DNA samples of relatives) have been sent to Hyderabad's Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics for matching. The results are expected in a week to 10 days.
"The process of identifying bodies has now been suspended. The remaining bodies have been sent to cold storages of several hospitals in the city," he said.
"There were multiple claimants for a couple of bodies. We couldn't give the bodies as there was no proper authentication. In one case, one family was claiming a body saying it was their 31-year-old relative, while another family claimed that same body as that of that of a 46 year old. There was no conclusive authentication from both sides. One family gave more 'evidence' that the other, but it would not have been ethical to hand over the body without conclusive evidence," Dr Bhandary said.
"The is also a body that we have identified but so far no one has come to claim it," he said.
He also had a word of praise for the residents of Kenjar village near the crash site who ventured down the deep valley to recover bodies before the emergency services could reach.