Source AP ©

Relatives try to identify victims of Phuket plane crash

The wall of photos is the first thing you see, the grim details of charred bodies.

Some are still wearing their jewelry and shredded clothing, after having been pulled from the wreckage of the plane crash in the Thai resort of Phuket. Eighty-nine people from around the world lost their lives when the One-Two-Go airliner landed hard in a the pouring rain, then burst into flames on Sunday afternoon.

On Tuesday, families, forensic specialists and journalists crowded a cargo building in the island's airport that has been set up as a command center to identify the passengers who did not survive.

People crowded the wall, taking pictures and checking name lists taped up next to the photos. Some stood on chairs to get a closer look at facial features burned beyond easy recognition.

"We need more. We have to see more before we know," said Momo Rosu, 34, who since Sunday has been looking for his 61-year-old friend who was supposed to visit from Paris. "I haven't slept. I can't think."

Others held on to framed pictures and copies of their relatives' identification papers in the effort to make a match. Yellow forms labeled "Disaster Victim Identification" were piled on long tables.

The bodies were being stored in a refrigerated container by the beach about a kilometer (mile) away, near the spot where some of the wreckage of the McDonnell Douglas MD-82 jet had been taken.

In a room next to the photo wall, an eight-person team of Israeli forensics experts had just arrived and was getting ready to help match bodies - from Israel and other countries - with dental records, fingerprints, DNA and distinguishing features described by relatives. They huddled over documents and peered at X-rays of teeth.

In December 2004, three of the forensic specialists had come to Phuket for the same task, after the Indian Ocean tsunami. Thousands were killed along the shores of the popular resort, which was among the hardest-hit areas.

"Sometimes it is the unknown, it is more unsettling not knowing," said David Abadi of Israel's Magen David Adom, the national emergency rescue service. "They are over here trying to close some circles for the family."

Six Israelis died and two survived Sunday's crash.

"There is no preparedness for a situation, where a mother or father have to bury their child," Abadi said, as one Israeli woman sat close by, silently crying.

A young Israeli couple on the flight, newlyweds who had come to Phuket on their honeymoon, were still missing Tuesday. The father of the bride and mother of the groom arrived together, supporting each other as they began to look for their children among the photographs.

The building also houses a room as big and airy as a gymnasium. On a stage are pieces of luggage from the plane crash, some covered in ashes and still reeking of smoke. One case has melted. Another sits ripped open; bright clothing peeking out from the front.

Close by, an elderly Thai man who had come to look for his sister is interviewed by a local television reporter. He doesn't smile as he holds up a photocopy of her passport for the camera, then politely bows with hands together in the Thai tradition of thanks, before turning away to fill out the yellow form.

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