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Bodies from Air France crash arrive in France

By Catherine Clifford, CNN
A ship transporting the remains of around 104 victims of the Air France 447 crash arrives in southwestern France Thursday.
A ship transporting the remains of around 104 victims of the Air France 447 crash arrives in southwestern France Thursday.
  • Ship transporting remains and wreckage arrives in France
  • There are believed to be around 104 bodies
  • A long process now begins to identify the victims, French authorities say

Paris (CNN) -- The ship carrying the remains of victims and wreckage from the Rio-Paris Air France 447 crash arrived in France on Thursday morning with around 104 bodies on board, according to French police sources.

A French police spokesman said "it is very difficult to give an exact number of bodies, but we believe there to be around 104."

AF 447 crashed two years ago close to the coast of Brazil, killing all on board.

The Ile-de-Sein, the cable ship chartered by French investigation body the BEA, docked at the port of Bayonne for unloading. All access to the port was blocked by police for the sake of discretion for the families of the victims. Dr. Bernd Gans, father of a German victim, said, "They showed us pictures of freezing containers, saying this is how the remains were transported. I think it's right that the families were not present at the port today."

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Once the unloading procedure has been completed, the remains will be sent to the forensic institute in Paris for autopsy and identification. Debris from the aircraft will be sent to a hangar in Toulouse for technical analysis.

Colonel Francois Daoust, head of the Institute of Criminal Research of French National police told French press that identification would be made in two stages, ante mortem and post mortem, through the use of medical records, dental records, comparison with DNA of relatives, and identification of jewellery.

He also described the state of the bodies: "These bodies have been damaged by the shock of the crash. And then nature does the job, obviously. The temperature at 2-3 ° and the almost total lack of oxygen slowed the deterioration process, but after two years, the bodies are inevitably damaged."

Gans told CNN that he had been in Paris Wednesday with other victim's families. "They explained to us that they would start identifying the remains recovered in contrast to what we were told a couple of weeks ago that the bodies could be identified by photos or clothes," he said. "It turns out it's really just a case of remains being identified by DNA. We are afraid that not much remains.

"When we were first told that the bodies could be identified by looking at them I thought... It's brilliant. With the way thing are now, I have changed my mind. They died all together at this particular spot and we should have left them there."

No exact time frame has been given for the process. Daoust told French media, "It will take time. To give you an idea, identifying the first 50 bodies, two years ago, had taken two months of work. For 104 new bodies, up to 40 people will be mobilized for several weeks."

Gans described the reaction of two French victims' relatives at the meeting held for victims relatives. "They were very emotional at this point. They asked if it could be arranged for all the relatives to get the results at the same time, so that some wouldn't be waiting whilst others had results. This was denied by representatives. They said this is the order we have for the investigation. When we have results we have to contact families," he said. "The victims' families will just have to sit and wait. This was very painful to hear."

Operations onboard the Ile-de-Sein came to an end on June 3. A total of 154 bodies have now been brought up, however this still leaves more than 70 which will never be recovered.

Gans explained, "Difficult days begin now. Some families will have hope; will be in this situation of waiting for the next months. Some will have an answer while others will never know."