Contribution of postmortem multidetector CT scanning to identification of the deceased in a mass disaster: Experience gained from the 2009 Victorian bushfires

C. O'Donnell, M. Iino, K. Mansharan, J. Leditscke, N. Woodford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

129 Citations (Scopus)


CT scanning of the deceased is an established technique performed on all individuals admitted to VIFM over the last 5 years. It is used primarily to assist pathologists in determining cause and manner of death but is also invaluable for identification of unknown deceased individuals where traditional methods are not possible. Based on this experience, CT scanning was incorporated into phase 2 of the Institute's DVI process for the 2009 Victorian bushfires. All deceased individuals and fragmented remains admitted to the mortuary were CT scanned in their body bags using established protocols. Images were reviewed by 2 teams of 2 radiologists experienced in forensic imaging and the findings transcribed onto a data sheet constructed specifically for the DVI exercise. The contents of 255 body bags were examined in the 28 days following the fires. 164 missing persons were included in the DVI process with 163 deceased individuals eventually identified. CT contributed to this identification in 161 persons. In 2 cases, radiologists were unable to recognize commingled remains. CT was utilized in the initial triage of each bag's contents. If radiological evaluation determined that bodies were incomplete then this information was provided to search teams who revisited the scenes of death. CT was helpful in differentiation of human from non-human remains in 8 bags, recognition of human/animal commingling in 10 bags and human commingling in 6 bags. In 61% of cases gender was able to be determined on CT using a novel technique of genitalia detection and in all but 2 cases this was correct. Age range was able to be determined on CT in 94% with an accuracy of 76%. Specific identification features detected on CT included the presence of disease (14 disease entities in 13 cases), medical devices (26 devices in 19 cases) and 274 everyday metallic items associated with the remains of 135 individuals. CT scanning provided useful information prior to autopsy by flagging likely findings including the presence of non-human remains, at the time of autopsy by assisting in the localization of identifying features in heavily disfigured bodies, and after autopsy by retrospective review of images for clarification of issues that arose at the time of pathologist case review. In view of the success of CT scanning in this mass disaster, DVI administrators should explore the incorporation of CT services into their disaster plans.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-28
Number of pages14
JournalForensic Science International
Issue number1-3
Publication statusPublished - 2011 Feb 25
Externally publishedYes


  • Computed tomography
  • Disaster
  • Effects of fire
  • Forensic science
  • Mass fatality
  • Postmortem
  • Victim identification
  • Victorian bushfires

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


Dive into the research topics of 'Contribution of postmortem multidetector CT scanning to identification of the deceased in a mass disaster: Experience gained from the 2009 Victorian bushfires'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this