Nearly two weeks after ValuJet Flight 592 slammed into the Florida Everglades, remains of only eight victims have been identified, mostly through fingerprints and in one case, a tattoo, officials said Friday.
Dade County Medical Examiner Roger Mittleman said a team of experts was attempting to match tiny bits of human tissue and flesh with the medical records of the 110 passengers and crew aboard the flight.Identification has been hampered by the high-speed impact that shattered the DC-9 on May 11. Muggy temperatures above 90 degrees, and the swampy condition of the Everglades have also made the process difficult, he said.
Officials declined to disclose the identities of the eight people identified so far, except to describe them as adults.
"In these cases tattoos were used, fingerprints were extensively used and also dental rec-ords," Mittleman said. He declined to describe a tattoo that he said helped medical examiners identify one victim.
Mittleman told a news conference that search crews recovered an estimated 18 to 20 percent of the human remains of all aboard the deadly flight, based on rough calculations of the combined weight of the body parts recovered from the Everglades.
At the crash site Friday, searchers moved in dredging equipment to sift through the muddy swamp in hopes of finding the cockpit voice recorder and other clues to the crash.
Carpenters were also assembling a three-dimensional model of the airplane's forward cargo hold, where more than 100 volatile oxygen generators were stored on the plane. Federal investigators have focused on the small stainless-steel canisters as a possible cause of the crash.
"We don't know exactly how much longer we'll be out here," said Pat Cariseo, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board.
The NTSB investigators typically collect the key parts of an airplane from a crash site in two or three days, he said.
The cost of the exhausting search for wreckage by local police, fire and federal officials has not yet been calculated, Cariseo said. The Navy supplied high-tech radar, and police divers were equipped with special plastic suits to protect them from the fetid water of the swamp.