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8 Victims Identified in ValuJet Everglades Crash

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Two weeks after 110 people perished when ValuJet Flight 592 plunged into the Everglades, eight victims have been identified from fragmented remains recovered at the crash site.

Using tattoos, scars, fingerprints, dental records and clothing described by relatives, Dade County Medical Examiner Roger E. Mittleman said Friday that he has been able to identify eight adults among the 105 passengers on the DC-9. The jetliner carried a crew of five.

Because of the force of the impact, Mittleman said, there is little chance that any of the victims’ bodies will be recovered intact. He also said that identifiable remains of many victims may never be found.

“The tissue is fragmented, so we have small portions of human remains,” said Mittleman.

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The Atlanta-bound DC-9 nose-dived into the Everglades on May 11 minutes after taking off from Miami International Airport. The plane was attempting to return to Miami after the crew reported smoke in the cockpit, according to federal officials.

For two weeks, investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board have been battling the water and muck of the Everglades to recover the shattered wreckage of the plane. But National Transportation Safety Board officials said that less than a quarter of the aircraft has been found. After a fruitless probe of an 8-foot-deep crater in the limestone believed to have been made by the plane, searchers have now called in pontoon platforms, a crane and a backhoe for further exploration.

Searchers will begin next week to use a high-pressure water hose to blow away grass and muck in an effort to locate more parts of the aircraft as well as the cockpit voice recorder.

Meanwhile, police divers in rubber biohazard suits have all but stopped wading through saw grass and jet fuel to pick up body parts. The task has been grisly and frustrating. Based on the estimated weight of 110 people, Mittleman said, only 18% to 20% of the victims’ remains have been recovered.

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“The force of the impact was quite severe,” said Mittleman. “I believe that this plane is very fragmented, and the likelihood of finding [intact] bodies in parts of the plane is not great.”

He added that because of the water and the heat in the Everglades, where daytime temperatures hover near 90 degrees, decomposition also has taken a toll.

Nonetheless, when positive identities of even partial remains can be established, those remains will be turned over to relatives, he said. “Families want remains, and that’s what we’re going to be giving them.”

The names of the eight passengers identified were not released. Mittleman said their families were being notified by American Red Cross officials who are accompanied by mental health counselors.

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For some relatives, the news that they are unlikely ever to receive any of the victims’ remains or possessions prolongs the agony of the loss and delays coming to terms with its finality. “It would be comforting to have a burial,” said Sharon Moss of Gastonia, N.C., whose brother Dan Jarvis, 41, and his wife, Linda, 42, died in the crash. “Bringing home some remains would give us closure.”

But others are not so sure. “We have great memories of her,” said Bret Rugg of his wife, Terri, who with her mother and stepfather had boarded Flight 592 to begin the journey home to Richmond, Ind., after a Caribbean cruise. “Seeing her body, or a part of a body, won’t change things. She was so alive that seeing her in any other condition would be difficult.”

Rugg, 40, a computer consultant who shared a home office with his wife, a travel agent, said that days after the crash a ValuJet representative called and asked for a description of his wife and for copies of her medical and dental records. He supplied them.

Since then he has been told nothing about body recovery. “I have seen them [on television] carrying body bags. It doesn’t sound very positive,” said Rugg, who has two young sons.

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