NEW YORK (AFP) - Criminal investigators combed for human remains on Tuesday in a narrow gap between two Manhattan buildings where a piece of plane wreckage from the 9/11 attacks 12 years ago was unexpectedly discovered last week.
Dozens of firefighters and investigators in white suits were on hand for the search two blocks from the World Trade Center, where on Sept 11, 2001 two hijacked airliners smashed into the Twin Towers, causing massive destruction and nearly 3,000 deaths.
Last week a large chunk of one of the Boeing airliners used in the attacks was found jammed into the passageway and was later identified as being part of a rear wing flap system.
The discovery recalled the incredible chaos of 9/11 in the heart of the world's biggest financial centre and prompted authorities to expand their off-and-on, often fruitless effort to identify the remains of those who died.
Of the total 2,753 people reported missing in the Twin Towers attacks, 1,118 literally vanished in the inferno and have not been matched to the large quantity of bone fragments or other human remains collected from the area.
Despite the seeming futility of the search, families of the victims have kept steady pressure on the authorities not to give up.
"We made a promise to the families, that as long as there is science available for us to try to make identifications, we are going to keep trying to identify every single human remain that we have," Ms Ellen Borakove, spokesman for the New York City medical examiner's office, said.
"The goal is of course to try to identify every person that died in the attacks." At the start of April, the coroner's office had begun a broader search for human remains, its first such effort in three years. Investigators sifting through huge quantities of debris from the World Trade Center rebuilding site will carry on working for eight weeks, Borakove said.
So far they've found about 74 pieces of what may be human remains.
"We are sifting to see if we see any human remains. If we find anything that looks like it could be human remains, we take it over to our office and we have our anthropologist take a look. If they believe they are human they will photograph them, give them separate numbers, and then send them to our DNA lab, to see if they can extract DNA... and try to identify to whom the remains belong," she said.
The latest person to be identified was a 55-year-old man on April 17.