Dutch News

1 August 2014
The identification process of flight HM17 victims

Since the day that the first human remains from the flight MH17 victims arrived in military complex in Hilversum in the Netherlands, an international team of forensic experts are busy with the identification. Information about teeth and DNA are crucial for a match. An overview of the identification process.

Already before the coffins arrived in the Netherlands so called family investigators have been visiting the relatives of the MH17 victims to gather hard and soft data. The hard data usually consists of information about the teeth of the victim (usually every Dutch person has a dentist file with photos), DNA information (a hair from a brush, material from a tooth brush or from clothing or a saliva sample from a family member) or finger prints that the victim has left behind.


The soft data consists of the gathering of information about size, weight, tattoos, piercings, clothing and accessories. All this information is stored in a so-called ante-mortem dossier and saved in a the Bonaparte computer program.


At the corporal Opheusden military complex in Hilversum houses the medical training department from the ministry of Defence. Because there are no students around in this period, there is enough facilities and space for the large team of experts to do their work. The human remains are cooled down to 4 to 6 degrees Celsius to fight decomposition. If it is possible, finger prints are taken.

Forensic dentists will examine the status of the teeth of the deceased. Because teeth and molar teeth have a unique form and structure, so they are the best way to determine the identity of a person. For this also Rontgen- and CT-scans are made. If four to five elements of a set of teeth can be matched with the victim, the identity of a victim can actually already be determined.  


In three-quarter of the cases a victim can be identified via their set of teeth. But if that does not work, DNA research is done. Usually a piece of skin tissue, if that is possible. If not a bone sample is taken., which is actually the last option. Taking bone samples is very time consuming. The DNA samples are send to the Dutch Forensic  Institute in the Hague, where all DNA samples are processed.


All the available information is stored in the so-called post-mortem dossier, using the computer program Bonaparte, that already contains the ante-mortem data gathered via the victim’s family members.  The Bonaparte program calculates and looks for matches. As a double check, the results are compared with the appearance characteristics information gathered via relatives.


It is unclear how long the identification process of the flight HM17 victims will take. After the plane crash in Tripoli in Libya in which 103 Dutch people died, it took more than a month before all victims were identified. After the identification the relatives can pay their last respects to the victim, if they want to. The forensic experts always do their best to make the human remains as presentable as possible, all depending on the state of the human remains.


After identification the human remains of a victim is released to the family for the funeral or cremation. Since also many non-Dutch victims have been brought to the Opheusden military complex in Hilversum, family investigators in all these countries of origin are doing the same research in exactly the same way, following the protocol of the international investigation service Interpol and with the use of the Bonaparte computer system. After the foreign MH17 victims are identified they are obviously repatriated to their home country as soon as it is possible.


Source: De Volkskrant






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