A Ribéreau-Gayon, C Rando, Y Schuliar, S Chapenoire, ER Crema, J Claes, B Seret, V Maleret and RM Morgan,
International journal of legal medicine, Mar 2017
Accurate determination of the origin and timing of trauma is key in medicolegal investigations when the cause and manner of death are unknown. However, distinction between criminal and accidental perimortem trauma and postmortem modifications can be challenging when facing unidentified trauma. Postmortem examination of the immersed victims of the Yemenia airplane crash (Comoros, 2009) demonstrated the challenges in diagnosing extensive unusual circular lesions found on the corpses. The objective of this study was to identify the origin and timing of occurrence (peri- or postmortem) of the lesions.A retrospective multidisciplinary study using autopsy reports (n = 113) and postmortem digital photos (n = 3 579) was conducted. Of the 113 victims recovered from the crash, 62 (54.9 %) presented unusual lesions (n = 560) with a median number of 7 (IQR 3 ∼ 13) and a maximum of 27 per corpse. The majority of lesions were elliptic (58 %) and had an area smaller than 10 cm2 (82.1 %). Some lesions (6.8 %) also showed clear tooth notches on their edges. These findings identified most of the lesions as consistent with postmortem bite marks from cookiecutter sharks (Isistius spp.). It suggests that cookiecutter sharks were important agents in the degradation of the corpses and thus introduced potential cognitive bias in the research of the cause and manner of death. A novel set of evidence-based identification criteria for cookiecutter bite marks on human bodies is developed to facilitate more accurate medicolegal diagnosis of cookiecutter bites.