Search for missing persons that took years to come to an end
The nation heaved with relief on Friday evening when the car that sank in the Indian Ocean with two occupants at the Likoni ferry crossing was finally lifted from the sea, bringing the 13-day search and retrieval operation to a heartrending but successful end.
Family and friends of Mariam Kighenda and her daughter Amanda Mutheu can now bury their loved ones.
Across the world, bodies of people who died in water accidents and other circumstances have been discovered several months, sometimes years, after the incident. The Nation looks at some of the prolonged body searches, ranging from the shocking to outright bizarre, and why it took so long to recover the bodies.
WORLD WAR II
During a mission to destroy Italian battleships at the height of World War II, a British submarine struck a mine gulf at Olbia near Italy, sinking with all the 71 servicemen on board.
The HMS P 311 submarine had left Malta on December 1942 on its way to La Maddalena, where the targeted ships lay at anchor, when the accident happened. When no signal was received from the ship after one week, the ship was declared sunk.
Its wreckage was discovered in May 2016 100 metres below sea level by divers off the coast of Sardinia, 74 years after its disappearance. The bodies had been preserved at an airtight compartment.
After the discovery, the Royal Navy said that the submarine would remain in its final resting place ‘‘whether there were bodies trapped inside or not’’.
‘‘Wrecks are only raised if there are extremely compelling historical or operational reasons to do so,’’ the Royal Navy said, adding, “Once a military vessel sinks it becomes a war grave and is left where it lies.”
10 YEARS LATER
When Deon Dreyer, a South African scuba diver disappeared at Bushman’s Hole while on a recreational dive, no one at the time imagined that it would take more than 10 years before his body could be retrieved from the sinkhole.
In 1994, Dreyer and his friends went for a dive at the 927ft submerged freshwater cave in South Africa’s Northern Cape Province. His fellow divers reported that Dreyer died from oxygen toxicity or hypercapnia (a condition were excessive carbon dioxide is retained in the blood) resulting from high breathing rate at that depth.
Eleven years later, in January 2005, renowned Australian technical diver David Shaw died in the cave while attempting to retrieve Dreyer’s body from the cave. While the mission was successful, Shaw paid the ultimate price: with his own life.
22 YEARS AGO
Last month, a Google Earth user spotted a car submerged in a lake in Wellington, Florida. Inside was the body of a man who disappeared 22 years ago.
In 1997, William Moldt was driving home from a nightclub when he plunged into the lake. Efforts to trace him for months were futile, after which the search was later abandoned.
This year, a former resident of the neighbourhood was viewing satellite images of the area when he made the crucial discovery. A drone was sent to the section of the lake and confirmed the findings.
Police retrieved the vehicle whose frame was calcified. Only the skeleton of the man was remaining after the body had completely decomposed. A DNA test positively identified the bones as that of William Moldt.
But it’s not only in water that bodies have been lost for years. Even on land, some bodies have taken long to recover, owing to the perils involved.
Hikers of Mount Everest Nepal know Green Boots only too well. Green Boots is the common name assigned to the frozen corpse believed to be that of Tsewang Paljor, a mountaineer who perished while trying to summit the 29,029ft mountain in 1996.
Tsewang was in the company of two other hikers when a blizzard caught them enroute to the summit. They all died.
The body, which lies facing the peak, surrounded by oxygen tanks, has since become a crucial landmark for those climbing the mountain using the north route. This one serves as a reminder of the perils of the mountain.
But why is this corpse called Green Boots? At the time of his death, Tsewang was wearing green Koflach mountaineering boots. These have remained on his feet 23 years later.
But Tsewang’s is not the only body in the tallest mountain on earth. Hundreds of other frozen bodies litter the Everest at different heights. These belong to hikers who unsuccessfully attempted to summit the mountain, or those who summited but died during their descent.
Most of these bodies are still intact, because of the extremely cold conditions that have helped to preserve them. It is even said that hikers sometimes step on bodies on their way to the peak.
According to the Washington Post, to remove a body from the mountain is an extremely expensive affair owing to the risks involved, which is why bodies of hikers often remain in the mountain after death.
It costs between $30,000 (Sh3 million) to $70,000 (Sh7 million) to move a body from the mountain.
Blizzards and avalanches are common in the mountain, which inhibits use of helicopters to move a body. Retrieval is mostly done by people, who have to carry the body to a safer zone from where it can be airlifted. This comes with the risk of death for the rescuers.
DEAD ON A SOFA
In 2006, police officers and a homeowner out to repossess a house owing to rent arrears dating back three years in Green Wood neighbourhood in the United Kingdom made a rather shocking discovery: a dead woman on a sofa.
For three years, Joyce Carol, 38, had lain dead in the couch in her house. It’s unclear how she died, but it’s assumed she died of natural causes.
Strangely, her TV was still on, tuned in to BBC1. Food in her refrigerator was marked with 2003 expiry dates. A pile of Christmas gifts was also discovered in the house.
According to the Guardian, Joyce’s body was severely decomposed, and identification was only possible through comparison of her dental records with an old photograph she had taken while on holiday.