Forensics to the fore

Comm Hussein (centre) with Shah Alam OCPD Asst Comm Mohd Iqbal Ibrahim (right) and other authorities speaking to the media at the plane crash site. — IZZRAFIQ ALIAS/The Star

SELANGOR State Police Chief Comm Datuk Hussein Omar Khan is no stranger to dealing with high profile cases. With his vast experience in the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), especially in the area of forensics, the state’s top cop also has insights into cases such as the Elmina crash and the MH17 tragedy.

“We have to finish the mission. For their family,” Comm Hussein vows.

For Comm Hussein, when the Aug 17 plane crash occurred in Elmina, Shah Alam, his forensics training kicked into gear once again.

His career has been forged in tragedies. Comm Hussein, who cut his teeth in the police forensics department, was part of the police team that investigated the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in 2014.

The tragedy of MH17 just mere months later pushed him to the centre of attention again as he led the police forensics team to ground zero of the crash site in Ukraine. Back then he was sent as the commander of the Disaster Victim Identification team.

And almost 10 years on, a few months after he took over the helm at the Selangor police contingent, the Shah Alam plane crash threw the spotlight back on him. As the state’s police chief, he had to lead operations on the ground following the tragedy that killed 10 people, including first-term Pelangai state assemblyman and Pahang exco member Datuk Seri Johari Harun.

The other victims were pilots Shahrul Kamal Roslan and Heikal Aras Abdul Azim; passengers Kharil Azwan Jamaludin, Shaharul Amir Omar, Mohamad Naim Fawwaz Mohamed Muaidi, Muhammad Taufiq Mohd Zaki and Idris Abdol Talib @ Ramali. Two road users, Muhamad Hafiz Muhamad Saleh and Sharipuddin Shaari were also killed in the crash.

In the beginning, Comm Hussein says he felt that it was better for the crash to be handled at the district level but as more information started coming in, he decided that he should step in as he has experience in airplane crash investigations.

Comm Hussein: I realised that I should share my experience in plane crash investigations and forensics with my team. — RAJA FAISAL HISHAN/The StarComm Hussein: I realised that I should share my experience in plane crash investigations and forensics with my team. — RAJA FAISAL HISHAN/The Star

“When I was informed [of the crash] I was about to go home for the day but I decided to go to the scene just to check on my OCPD [district police chief]. At that time I had no intention of taking over the whole thing.

“But when I arrived, I noticed the complexity of the situation. Seeing the condition of the human remains at the scene, I knew it would be a complex process and that this required experience.

“I could not push this to my OCPD. Instead I realised that I should share my experience with and do this together with my team,” he says.

Comm Hussein adds that the burden of responsibility to bring closure to the families of victims spurred him to do whatever he could to speed up investigations.

“And to assist the victim’s families, I know I am able to speed up the process [of forensic investigation] and bring that confidence to everybody. The responsibility pulled me to handle the incident and to see it to the end,” he says.

Forensic investigators and laboratory technicians worked through the night and into the early hours to verify all remains from the crash site.

“We told the chemists: ‘OK, get prepared with your human resources and equipment because it will be full swing’,” he recalls, noting that the laboratory received its samples as soon as the pathologists had completed their postmortems.

Comm Hussein (second from left) showing Selangor Fire and Rescue Department director Wan Md Razali Wan Ismail and IGP Tan Sri Razarudin Husain the  plane crash site in Shah Alam. — KAMARUL ARIFFIN/The StarComm Hussein (second from left) showing Selangor Fire and Rescue Department director Wan Md Razali Wan Ismail and IGP Tan Sri Razarudin Husain the plane crash site in Shah Alam. — KAMARUL ARIFFIN/The Star

Ever the forensics investigator, Comm Hussein stresses that the proper and meticulous processing of the crime scene is imperative in ensuring the victims are properly identified for their families.

“Firstly you need to identify how to process the crime scene. Then you need to determine how many are allowed to get involved and who specifically.

“You have to collect all of the remains; you can’t leave any piece behind. If your tagging and labelling is correct at the start, this speeds up the process downstream at the hospital and the laboratory.

“We knew nobody survived but the least we could do for the families was to make sure that they were able to have a proper funeral for their lost loved ones.

“That is a huge responsibility,” he notes.

One of the biggest challenges he faced was ensuring that the crowds were controlled and that inappropriate photos of the victims were suppressed to protect the families from additional pain and grief.

“People were taking photographs of human remains, affecting the sensitivities of family members. This is tidak senonoh [inappropriate].

“That should be avoided. These photos are just not nice to see and having some of those photos uploaded [online] was a failure on the police side,” he concedes.

Comm Hussein’s handling of the tragedy was applauded by many due to his constant and clear communication with members of the media and family members.

And largely thanks to him, the forensics identification process was also sped up to ensure families were able to bury their loved ones mere days after the crash.

“This was the fastest we had processed such an incident and we had released [the remains] earlier than expected.

“In three days, we cleared it and by Sunday it was the funeral.

“We informed [about] the process in stages and of course the first question the family asked was ‘How soon can I collect the remains?’ That is never a clear-cut answer because it depends on the lab.

“Sometimes you need to repeat [tests] because it wasn’t a good sample and they would need to double-confirm things. People wanted to know why and we had to tell them that due to the nature of the incident the remains were not easily identifiable through visual recognition, and that we would also need to perform DNA and fingerprint verifications to make sure,” he explained.

Following the successful verification of the remains, Comm Hussein also made sure that the state Islamic Religious Department (Jais) was roped in to guide the families in the proper funeral processes due to the nature of the remains.

“Even Jais took the initiative and bore the costs for the coffins and the manpower [for the handling of the remains for prayers]. And they have the expertise to determine what needs to be done for disasters such as these like how to perform the ‘mandi jenazah’ [washing of the body].

“We did the best that we could. At the very least we were satisfied that we performed this correctly and in a timely way,” he says.

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