Fire on Mumbai-Dehradun Express: Tooth, bangles a few coins only clues to identify bodies

Authorities are having a tough time establishing the identities of the four unclaimed bodies, as they have been charred beyond recognition, and two of them are just a pile of ashes and bones

It’s a tough task for officials to identify the people who died in the fire that engulfed the three coaches of the Mumbai-Dehradun Express on January 8. Bodies are completely charred, leaving no identifiable traces. In fact, of the four bodies that arrived at the post-mortem centre at JJ Hospital, two are just a pile of ash and some bones. All that the forensics experts have found with the ashes and charred bodies are some bangles, a wisdom tooth and a few coins. These are the objects officials are banking upon for identifying the deceased.

With the bodies burnt to ash, the forensics team says it’s next to impossible to find traces of DNA to identify the deceased. Pics/Nimesh Dave
Unidentified: With the bodies burnt to ash, the forensics team says it’s next to impossible to find traces of DNA to identify the deceased. Pics/Nimesh Dave

The Palghar railway police, vide accidental death register number 5(5), 5(6), 5 (7) and 5 (8) of 2014, had sent the mortal remains to the Department Of Forensic Medicine And Toxicology, Grant Medical College and JJ Hospital for an autopsy. According to hospital sources, the remains were brought around midnight on Wednesday, and soon after, a panel of five forensics surgeons conducted the autopsy, which lasted until 4 am. The procedure was captured on camera.


A forensics expert explained that the bodies, which had burnt to ashes, clearly indicates that they were exposed to a high degree of direct flames, whose temperature might have been around 150-200 degree Celsius. Sources added that the people might have been sleeping at the time of incident, and were close to the place where the fire broke out.

“We have found four metal bangles amidst the ashes in one of the two cases, and few coins from the other. In case of the remaining two charred bodies, the entire skin, hair and internal organs were burnt, indicating that they were exposed to a comparatively lower degree of flames. Also, a single wisdom tooth was found in one of the two charred bodies, and one of the two was a female,” said the surgeon.

Forensic surgeons have collected and sent samples of the charred bodies, including skin and ashes, to the Kalina forensic laboratory to find out if there are residues of any combustible or explosive substances. Samples have also been sent for DNA analysis, which will be a bit challenging for the scientists at FSL, Kalina. The surgeons have concluded the cause of death as ‘shock due to burns’.

Meanwhile, a DNA expert from Kalina forensic laboratory told MiD DAY, “Ascertaining DNA from ashes is not possible. We will try to study the bony remains, burnt wisdom tooth and even the bangles that have been found and attempt to find any DNA traces on them, once the samples are sent to us.”

Pramod Dhaware, senior police inspector and investigating officer, from Palghar railway police station, reported that they had retrieved the ashes from two places within the S2 coach and that the remaining two charred bodies were found in the S4 compartment.

He also said that nobody had yet filed a missing complaint. Relatives of the deceased haven’t shown up either. Dhaware said, “Out of the 9 dead, 5 have been identified and handed over to the next of kin. The remaining four bodies were sent to the JJ post-mortem centre. We have now requested the railways to hand over passenger charts of S2, S3 and S4 coaches, along with the requisition forms that passengers fill at the time of booking tickets at the counter, to find the contact details. A similar request will be made to IRCTC for online bookings as well.”

The police and railway authorities have a challenging task ahead to disburse the compensation amounts to the families of those families whose bodies have turned to ash, in case forensic experts failed to ascertain their identity, added inspector Dhaware. The police have registered a case of accidental death under Section 174 of Criminal Procedure Code.

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