Israel's Forensic Institute Faces Lawsuit for Mixing Up Body Parts of Plane Crash Victims

Abu Kabir also buried the remains in supermarket plastic bags and opened a grave despite request of family not to do so.

The Abu Kabir Institute of Forensic Medicine has buried body parts in supermarket plastic bags, swapped remains of different bodies and opened a grave despite the family's request not to do so, according to a large-scale civil suit set to be served against the institute this week.

Pasternak brothers and Menachem Ben Zecharia.

Yossef and Yehudit Pasternak, parents of brothers Aviram, 32, and Itai, 25, who were killed together with pilot Eliav Arbel, 30, and friend Meni Ben Zecharia, 34, when their Cessna plane crashed near Moshav Batzra two years ago, are suing the state institute for millions of shekels in damages.

The lawsuit, which will be served by family attorney Eliad Shraga, claims that the institute's staff failed identifying the bodies to such a degree that they swapped the severed feet of Aviram Pasternak and another casualty.

The morning after the crash, the lawsuit says, the parents were contacted by workers of the institute, who suggested burying the brothers in a shared grave. The parents refused, and on the same night police informed them that the identification was complete and separate funerals could be conducted.

Three weeks later, Yehudit Pasternak was invited to a meeting with the institute's staff and its head, Professor Yehuda Hiss. At the meeting, Hiss informed the family of a "mishap" in which an organ of Aviram's was switched with the organ of another casualty.

After some inquiries by the family, it transpired that Aviram's left foot was swapped with that of one of the other casualties. Hiss told them this was only discovered following a secondary check. He offered the parents to leave the burials as they were, presenting a rabbinical position which found this religiously acceptable. The alternative, he said, was exhuming both casualties, exchanging the organs and reburying them.

The family chose the second option, and requested the assistance of pathologists from the private Madan casualties notification center. The exhumation took place in December 2008, with the help of two pathologists from Madan, Dr. Hen Kogel and Dr. Maya Forman-Resnick, with attorney Ofer Margalit documenting the process. They found that contrary to an agreement not to touch the graves without family representatives present, Aviram's grave had already been dug up and the misplaced foot was lying on the ground.

The two physicians were appalled to find different parts of the remains buried in plastic bags from the Supersol and Mega supermarket chains. In an examination, they found numerous discrepancies with the institute's report. The bag containing the foot also contained some lung tissue unmentioned in the report. Another bag contained a number of teeth buried with other tissue, a fact that also went unmentioned in the original report.

Kogel and Forman-Resnick voiced surprise that the institute had ignored dental remains, which constitute one of the few certain identification methods in forensic medicine. In view of this, they concluded that oversights in the burial of other casualties of the crash may have occurred.

The parents claim in the lawsuit that the institute conducted itself with gross negligence and disrespect toward the deceased throughout the process. They are also suing the state for alleged oversights by the Aviation Authority, which they said were responsible for the crash.

A spokesperson for the forensic institute told Haaretz that a response has already been sent to the family's lawyers, and the staff have no intention of arguing the case via newspaper pages.

A Health Ministry spokesperson said that the matter has been transferred to the Inbal company, which manages the internal fund for government insurance. An extensive check was also conducted, the ministry said, and the ministry's position was made known to the family in March. "No practical written comments have been made by the family attorneys since," a ministry spokesperson said.