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71 migrants died 'in an hour' in Austria death truck

world Updated: Aug 30, 2015 02:22 IST

Forensic police officers inspect a parked truck in which up to 50 migrants were found dead, on a motorway near Parndorf, Austria. Police made the grisly discovery in the 7.5-tonne lorry stopped on the A4 motorway near the town of Parndorf, apparently since Wednesday. Police could not put an exact figure on the number of victims, whose bodies had begun to decompose. (Reuters Photo)

The decomposing bodies of 71 migrants found inside an abandoned truck on an Austrian motorway have spoken out a chilling new low truth in European migration crisis.

Police are still scanning every corner of the vehicle and autopsies are ongoing. Here's a breakdown of what we know so far about the passengers, how they died, the vehicle and four suspects arrested in Hungary.

Syrian travel document

Police found inside a Syrian travel document, leading them to believe that the dead were refugees from the war-torn country. Police are also evaluating Sim cards from mobile phones found among the bodies.

Inside the vehicle, found in a motorway layby near Parndorf in the Neusiedl am See district near the Hungarian border, were 59 men, eight women and four children including a girl one or two years old and three boys between eight and 10.

Investigators are seeking to identify the victims with fingerprints, DNA and their teeth. Their faces were reportedly barely recognisable due to the advanced state of decomposition. Reports said that even nearby, the stench was unbearable.

Time and cause of death

Autopsies being carried out Saturday in Vienna will determine the exact cause and estimated time of death, but police say they most likely suffocated and could have been dead for a day and a half to two days.

The doors to the refrigerated truck were locked and also bound with cables. The 71 men, women and children were tightly crammed into an area of around 15 square metres (160 square feet), and in the dark.

Police are investigating whether the refrigeration system would have let any air in. If not, Austrian daily Oesterreich calculated that they would have asphyxiated in 63 minutes, the children suffocating first because they were lower down.

Damage inside the vehicle shows potentially how the migrants tried to break out, but police said the markings could pre-date the tragedy.

Poultry products

The truck used to belong to a Slovakian poultry firm but has Hungarian number plates and is now registered to one of four men -- three Bulgarians and an Afghan -- arrested by Hungarian police.

Police in Austria and Hungary think they are low-ranking members of one of the numerous human trafficking gangs that prey on the tens of thousands migrants seeking new homes in Europe.

Hungarian investigators say the 7.5-tonne vehicle picked up the migrants near the Hungarian town of Kecskemet, some 100km (60 miles) north of the Serbian border where huge numbers have crossed over in recent months.

What happens now

Once autopsies have been completed, the dead will be buried near to where they were found on the A4 autobahn (motorway) in eastern Austria, one of the main routes from Hungary into Austria and beyond.

In addition to physical evidence, police in the state of Burgenland have set up a hotline (+43 59133 10 3333) for people who believe family members may be among the dead. The hotline is staffed by translators and open around the clock.

The four suspects appeared before a court in Kecskemet, Hungary on Saturday, with prosecutors seeking to remand them in custody for a month. Austria may then seek their extradition. The Volvo truck is still being investigated.