OVC ArchiveOVC
This file is provided for reference purposes only. It was current when produced, but is no longer maintained and may now be outdated. Please select www.ovc.gov to access current information.

Lessons Learned About What Is Helpful When Working With Victims' Families

The Crash of ValuJet 592, A Forensic Approach to Severe Body Fragmentation documents the lessons learned in the aftermath of the crash of ValuJet 592 into the Florida Everglades on May 11, 1996, which killed all 110 persons on board. Written by medical examiners who worked on this case, this book describes forensic lessons learned as well as lessons learned about helping victims’ families.

This book reports that after the crash of ValuJet 592, the families immediately wanted information. They expressed concern about not knowing what was going on regarding recovery of the remains, identification, and issuance of death certificates. It became very important to provide the victims’ families accurate information, so an informational letter addressing identification and notification procedures, disposition options, issuance of death certificates, and matters related to unidentified remains was sent to all families. A followup letter with updated information was later sent to the families.

In any mass fatality, it is extremely important to be humane and considerate when notifying next of kin after an identification has been made. Decisions about how to accomplish this may differ in different mass-fatality events. The Crash of ValuJet 592, A Forensic Approach to Severe Body Fragmentation describes the notification protocol established during the ValuJet 592 recovery effort. The same protocol was followed for all identifications: all notifications had to be made in person, not by telephone. This protocol was established to show respect to the families and ensure that the families received the proper information and understood it. Every family was visited by a notification team consisting of one law enforcement officer, to show respect, and one mental health professional or member of the clergy, to offer the family help and support.

Like other air disasters, the ValuJet 592 air disaster left in its wake severely fragmented bodies. The following excerpt is taken from The Crash of ValuJet 592, A Forensic Approach to Severe Body Fragmentation (2000: 52). The medical examiners in this case learned how important it was to allow the victims’ families a choice regarding the disposition of body fragments that had been identified as coming from their loved ones.

When severe fragmentation occurs, it is critical to permit family choice in the disposition of an identified fragment, especially when the identification process may involve multiple fragments from one person recovered over an extended time period. It would cause great consternation for the family to release their loved ones’ remains for burial only to inform them later that another fragment has been identified. Choice in the disposition of such remains is best decided as soon as one piece of tissue is identified.


Previous Contents Next

Providing Relief to Families After a Mass Fatality
November 2002
Archive iconThe information on this page is archived and provided for reference purposes only.