Forensic teams have isolated 78 distinct DNA strands from body parts at the Germanwings crash site in the French Alps, while investigators continued their grim task in the arduous mountain terrain.
As well as trying to identify and return bodies to their families, search teams were also hunting for a second “black box” that has yet to be found six days into the search.
The challenges of working on the steep and remote mountainside have been compounded by the violence of the impact – the plane is said to have crashed into the mountainside at a speed of 700 kilometres (430 miles) per hour, killing all 150 people on board.
“We haven’t found a single body intact,” said Patrick Touron, deputy director of the police’s criminal research institute.
He said the difficulty of the recovery mission was “unprecedented”.
“We have slopes of 40 to 60 degrees, falling rocks, and ground that tends to crumble,” said Touron. “Some things have to be done by abseiling.”
Search teams on the mountain were attached at all times to specialist mountain police.
So far, forensic teams have isolated 78 DNA strands from recovered body parts, said prosecutor Brice Robin, one of the lead investigators.
He said an access road was also being built to the site to allow all-terrain vehicles to remove some of the larger parts of the plane.
Helicopters have been going back and forth to the nearby town of Seynes – around 60 trips a day.
“Since safety is key, the recovery process is a bit slow, which is a great regret,” Touron said.
Most body parts were being winched up to helicopters before being transported to a lab in the nearby town of Seynes where a 50-strong team of forensic doctors and dentists and police identification specialists is working.
Between 400 and 600 body parts were currently being examined, Touron said.
The smallest details can prove crucial: fingerprints, jewellery, bits of ID card, teeth.
“In catastrophes, normally around 90 per cent of identifications are done through dental records,” Touron added, but in the case of flight 9525, DNA was likely to play a greater role than normal.
Once DNA samples have been taken, they are sent to another lab outside Paris, where they are compared to samples taken from family members this week.
The other top priority is finding the second “black box”.
“You have to be there to understand what we’re dealing with,” said one policeman, returned from the site.