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Funeral professionals train in search and recovery efforts

  • Published
  • By Jason Minto
  • Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations

Two civilians from Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations recently completed the Buried Bodies and Surface Skeletons: Recovery Techniques class hosted at the Institute of Police Technology and Management in Jacksonville, Florida.

“This course allows students to learn specific techniques when searching for and recovering human remains,” said Dr. Meredith Tise, Suncoast Forensics, LLC owner and forensic anthropologist.  “The class focused partially on the search and recovery of skeletal remains on the surface of the ground. This ensures a thorough recovery and clear documentation to support each case in court.” 

AFMAO civilians attend classes throughout the year for their career field professional development. This class assists mortuary specialists in being prepared for their duties if called on to assist with search and recovery.

“The class helped me learn to identify human vs. non-human bones, how to locate buried human remains and conduct a forensic recovery of those remains, all while preserving the context and evidentiary value of associated evidence,” said Electa Thompkins, AFMAO mortuary specialist.  “This course enables us to assist installations with search and recovery operations.”

The search portion of the class was one of the most beneficial segments, according to Ed Conway, AFMAO mortuary affairs program inspector.

The content included a thorough explanation of search strategies and differences between line and grid searches, use of cadaver dogs, probing and ground penetrating radar.

“Emphasis was placed on planning, selecting appropriate search methods and their execution, factoring manpower and terrain,” said Conway.

Extensive application of mapping methods and creating a unit/grid for a particular recovery site were also covered.

“This lesson is fundamental to correctly plotting and recording locations of remains and personnel effects during recoveries,” said Conway.  “Most plotting is accomplished using handheld GPS devices, but it is a great backup method to rely on if equipment fails.”

The instruction aimed to simulate various types of recoveries ranging from shallow to deep ground, as well as bodies of water.  Likewise, the hands-on training increased the student’s capabilities, preparing them for future recovery efforts.

“After attending the three-day course, my confidence level increased tremendously,” said Thompkins.

Although she said it will take more repetition and hands-on practice to become completely proficient in search and recovery procedures, Thompkins said the training has helped her feel better equipped to understand the process, work with a search and recovery team and to close-out a case effectively.