A stained white sports shoe was the only remaining identifiable object on the charred body at the morgue in Mangalore’s Wenlock Hospital on Sunday.
John Mampally (72) claimed the body was of his son Riju John (31), who he said had worn white Puma sports shoes while boarding the Air India Express Dubai-Mangalore flight that crashed on Saturday.
But soon, Rajendra Kodkany identified the same body as that of his younger brother Mahendra on the basis of the white sports shoe on the charred right leg. Yet another family claimed the body as that of one Sukumar.
In the midst of a heated argument someone pulled off the shoe to check the brand — but couldn’t get it back on the limp foot.
Panic set in when relatives learnt that the forensic reports would take a minimum of seven days as they would have to be prepared in Hyderabad.
“All identification marks have been burnt. He was wearing a gold-plated watch. That wasn’t found,” said a profusely sweating Syed Iqtedar Ali from Bhopal who could not identify the body of his son Mohammed Ali, a flight purser with Air India.
Ravi Shankar, who rushed from Dubai, identified two family members but could not trace his son, Akshay (17), who was coming to Mangalore as he wanted to study in India. Immediate family members were asked to give blood samples for DNA tests.
Among the first to be photographed as part of the DNA test procedure was 13-year-old Naval Aziz, who had come from Kerala’s Kasaragod district to claim his father Abdul Aziz’s body. The Class 8 student, who was accompanied by his friends, did not tell his mother and sister back home that the body had not yet been found.
Similar distraught tales echoed across the morgue compound, but the stench of bodies and formaldehyde numbed the grief of relatives.
Mangalore, a city with a population of less than 700,000, was not prepared for a tragedy of this proportion.
Staff and volunteers at Wenlock hospital worked relentlessly and performed 106 post-mortems in barely two days.
The rest were performed at the four medical college hospitals.
The city’s two government hospitals have a combined bed strength of 1,200, but not enough freezers in the morgue to store the 22 remaining bodies.
Wenlock’s mortuary can store four, the rest will be sent to private hospitals. But that’s not uppermost on the doctors’ minds. “Charred bodies do not decompose quickly,” as one put it.