Plane crash victims - who cleans it up?

I was reading about the recent plane crash in Buffalo and it has piqued my morbid curiosity.

In such a crash from a relatively low altitude, in what condition are the bodies? I suppose that most were burned in this particular case - not sure.

Who cleans it up? Is the employees of the NTSB? Local coroner’s office or some other agency/organization?

Well, if it’s a really major crash, there’s this thing called a Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team, which is a bunch of experts in victim identification and mortuary services. They call them in when it’s too much for the locals to handle. I don’t know if there was one called in for this crash, but they include people like forensic odontologists and fingerprint specialists and they try to get every little bit of human remains picked up, identified, and given back to the families.

It is my understanding (no cite) that after NTSB and law enforcement are finished gathering evidence and human remains, a contracted environmental services company then completes the clean up. Not only do they take care of the obvious physical and chemical wreckage, but the bio hazards (including fluids, etc from humans and other animals).

I actually have a bit of (quite unwanted) firsthand experience with this; last October we had an airplane crash on our property – about fifty feet from our house, after going right overhead and missing it vertically by about twenty feet! It wasn’t anything big; just a 3- or 4-seater Stinson 108. There were two passengers, who were critically injured but survived; unfortunately, the pilot died on impact with a stand of large fir trees.

The crash happened late at night; after the initial response and rescue by the volunteer fire department and county sheriff’s deputies, a coroner was called out to inspect and remove the remains of the pilot. So, in this case at least, it was local emergency personnel who dealt with the human remains.

The next morning some investigators from the NTSB arrived (I had actually already talked to them on the phone; they called us about an hour after the crash, presumably after being contacted by law enforcement). After taking witness statements and conducting their investigation (which pretty much just took the one day), they told us that they would contact a salvage contractor to remove the wreckage of the plane. The contractor arrived a couple of days later and hauled the wreckage out on a truck.

So, after local emergency crews removed the body, and aside from some clipped trees, a few lingering shards of glass and aluminum, and some nasty ruts in our yard from the salvage truck, the contractor took care of everything. They left us with the contact information of their insurance company so we could obtain compensation for the damage done by the truck to our lawn, incidentally.

I was thinking about recovery myself. Since the plane landed relatively flat I’m hoping the bodies remained mostly intact. It was decending at a rate of 10,000 feet a minute. Basically a falling rock.

Unfortunately, in this case, the bodies are not intact, except for the people who were sitting in the tail section. They were found with seatbelts on. Our locals are in over thier heads with this one, there is a team of mortuary people coming from around the country, bringing thier equipment with them. So far they have recovered the remains of fifteen people, but the health commisioner says they won’t give anymore numbers out of respect for the families.

So, if they’re not intact…in what state are they?

Charred beyond recognition, possibly just some teeth in a charred jawbone in many cases. No actual “body”, since the flesh would have been consumed in the intensely hot fire caused by the 5,800 pounds of jet fuel that burned the crash wreckage for hours after the crash.

My schoolfriends dad used to do this. We were having one of those - what does your dad do conversations and while people were saying - he works in an office, or he’s a farmer - she came up with “He pieces bodies together after a plane crash!”

It was a very specialised job and he was flown all over the world. Whenever there’s a major crash I morbidly think - I wonder if Claires dad had to go.

Or as Thomas Wolfe wrote in The Right Stuff:

I was part of one of the SAR teams, local volunteer ground search and rescue, that participated in the search and recovery mission for the SwissAir disaster. We were tasked with retieving plane and body parts on the outlying islands around Peggy’s Cove. We bagged everything and brought it to a central command area, from there it went to a makshift morgue at an airforce base.

My uncle is VP in charge of safety for a major airline. Several years ago, after a major crash that had spread body parts over a pretty wide area, he put on gloves and a yellow suit and waded in among the wreckage with a plastic bag until the whole thing was cleaned up.

I was in the Madrid airport last August, when a plane crashed during takeoff. Most of the bodies were burned beyond recognition, and they had to do DNA testing to identify them. The last I heard, five still could not be identified (I guess they couldn’t find relatives for comparison). Of the 155 people on board, only 19 survived, many of whom were seriously injured or burned.

With the intense heat of the fire fueled by jet fuel, I would think that the people would essentially be cremated, right? Would there be anything left besides ashes? Would bones remain, or teeth?

There’s apparently enough that contains intact DNA for testing. Can they get DNA from charred bones and teeth?

My mother worked building the database to catalog body parts collected from USAir Flight 427. In this case the county coroner was responsible for heading up the of the remains. I assume he had extra personnel brought in to assist. They were taken to a hanger at nearby 911th air base, and two employees from the county’s IT department were in charge of building a catalog of the remains and matching them to the descriptions given by the families to make a conclusive identification. When they started, they were hoping to identify about 25% of the victims. They ended up confirming over 90%. It took many weeks.

There were no intact bodies, there were thousands of pieces collected. All soft tissues disintegrated. Most of the parts were very small - fingers, bone pieces, limb portions. Not many were burned. Some key items became very helpful in confirming identities. Engraved wedding bands were of great assistance, along with indicators of past surgeries (wired ribs, unique scars). As I recall, dental records and fingerprints were only occasionally helpful. Most of the teeth were scattered.

My mother downplayed the effect it had on her, but I’m pretty sure it gave her nightmares.
Later she got a job that required frequent air travel. On one return trip, they encountered turbulance at roughly the same point in the flight that 427 went down. My mother said she seriously considered getting out a pen and writing her name all over her arms. She’s had her wedding band engraved since then.

I’m not aware who was responsible for the plane debris. I remember that they offered counseling for first responders. As far as I know the wooded area that was the crash site is private property and still kept off limits to onlookers.