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Remains from 60-year-old plane crash identified

SPIE Fellow is part of forensics team announcing findings

SPIE Fellow Colleen Fitzpatrick

After a nine-year effort, forensic researchers and scientists have identified an arm and a hand found buried in an Alaskan glacier 60 years ago in a plane crash.

All 30 passengers -- Merchant Marines returning from China -- died in the 1948 incident. The crash site was discovered in 1999. While remains of other victims were identified earlier on, it took nine years of advanced DNA and fingerprint research and genealogical studies to identify the remains of Francis Joseph Van Zandt, a Roanoke, VA, native.

The results were announced in a press conference on 15 August at George Washington University (GWU), Washington, DC. Participants included SPIE Fellow Dr. Colleen Fitzpatrick of Yeiser and Associates, the forensic genealogist who found the family reference for DNA comparison; GWU professor Edward Robinson, who did the fingerprint identification; Dr. Odile Loreille of the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory, who did the DNA identification; and Kevin McGregor, one of the pilots who discovered the remains.

Latent fingerprint expert Mike Grimm said at the press conference that this was the oldest identification of fingerprints from post-mortem remains. Grimm and Edward Robinson, a professor of forensic science at George Washington University, contributed a key element by obtaining a complete set of prints with the use of a rehydrating solution. A distant relative in Ireland provided a DNA match to Van Zandt's remains.

Full story from Times Online.