They must now try to match them with DNA profiles from the 150 people killed — an arduous task which could leave families waiting for months.
The extraordinary recovery process mobilised hundreds of people and cut a stony road into a forested Alpine mountainside to help the team bring back anything they found, from a body part to a tiny shred of skin. Not a single intact body was found.
Francois Daoust, head of France’s IRCGN national criminal laboratory in Pontoise, near Paris, said that as of Monday afternoon the forensic teams on the site and in Paris had isolated 78 distinct DNA profiles from the hundreds of samples recovered at the site — leaving nearly as many unaccounted for.
Meanwhile, they had only received complete DNA profiles for about 60 victims from their relatives because it takes time to gather samples from families still reeling from their loss.
Based on black box cockpit recordings recovered on the day of the crash, investigators believe the Germanwings co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, locked the captain out of the cockpit and deliberately slammed the plane into the mountain, killing everyone on board.
The impact of the March 24 crash shattered the plane and all those inside, ripped a black box from its orange protective casing, and left shreds of metal and cloth scattered across a wide area.
Lieutenant Colonel Jean-Marc Menichini, who has been involved in the operation focusing on recovering victims’ remains, said “there are no longer any visible remains” at the crash site.
A special unit of mountain troops, with help from German investigators, is now clearing the crash site of everything else that is there — including debris and personal effects.
While the retrieval of DNA from the body parts may be completed as early as this week, Mr Daoust said it would take two to four months to match the samples with the victims’ DNA profiles.
Dental and surgical records, tattoos, DNA from hair — or toothbrushes — will all serve to identify and ultimately return the remains to families.
Mr Daoust said all the families will be informed at the same time who has been identified.
“If I announced an identification as soon as I had it to a family, psychologically it’s an oppression and a pressure on those that don’t yet have an identification,” he said.
If some victims have still not been identified when everything possible has been done, it will be horrifying for those families, but they will understand investigators did all they could, he added.