Six months after crash, remains of nine still unidentified

Posted: Thursday, July 27, 2000

VENTURA, Calif. (AP) -- Six months after Alaska Airlines Flight 261 plunged into the Pacific Ocean killing all 88 aboard, the remains of nine victims still haven't been identified.

DNA testing to positively identify the remains could take several more months, county assistant chief medical examiner Janice Frank said Wednesday.

Biopsy tissue samples were sent months ago to the Armed Forces Pathology Institute in Bethesda, Md., but the analysis process is painstakingly slow, she said.

The MD-80 went into a steep dive and crashed into the sea eight miles off Port Hueneme on Jan. 31. The National Transportation Safety Board investigation is incomplete, but the probe has focused on a badly damaged part called a jackscrew that controlled the plane's horizontal stabilizer.

Fingerprints, dental records, tattoos, surgery scars, distinctive jewelry and other personal effects were used by forensic pathologists to identify most of the victims, Frank said.

DNA analysis from about 800 tissue samples is being used on the others and on remains recovered separately from bodies that were already identified, she said.

County officials last spring obtained a court order to issue death certificates to the families of all 88 victims. California law normally does not allow a death certificate to be issued until remains are positively identified.

The order enabled the families to access bank accounts, collect insurance, transfer property and execute wills.

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