US: DNA analysis advancement identifies 1,650th victim of 9/11, over 1000 remain unidentified

On the morning of September 11, 2001, hijackers deliberately crashed American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in Manhattan leaving 2,977 dead across three locations.

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Courtesy: Representation

Over twenty years after the 9/11 attacks, New York City officials announced the identification of yet another victim who was killed in one of the deadliest attacks on US soil in the collapse of the World Trade Center towers.

Honoring one of the heroes

John Ballantine Niven, a 44-year-old insurance executive and resident of Oyster Bay, Long Island, worked as a senior vice president at Aon Risk Services on the 105th floor of the South Tower. He was survived by his mother, siblings, wife, and toddler son.

Niven marks the 1,650th person to be identified among the nearly 3,000 killed on September 11, 2001, when al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked commercial airliners and crashed them into landmarks in New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

Finding Solace through advancements in DNA Analysis

In recent years, the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office has increasingly utilized advanced DNA analysis to identify remains even two decades later. These new identifications, said Mayor Eric Adams, can “offer solace to the families of victims” though the “pain from the enormous losses on September 11th never leaves us.”

 “I'm grateful for the ongoing work from the Office of Chief Medical Examiner that honors the memory of John Ballantine Niven and all those we lost,” he added.

Roughly 40% of 9/11 victims – about 1,103 people – remain unidentified. However, days before the 22nd memorial anniversary, examiners identified the remains of a man and a woman through enhanced testing capabilities.

However, the names of the victims have not been disclosed at the request of their families. The two new identifications were after the latest records of identification since September 2021.

Appreciating the continued efforts

New York officials expressed gratitude for the medical examiner’s continuous work to identify the fallen using emerging technologies.

In a separate statement, Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino said that the heroes who perished in the 9/11 attacks will be remembered for eternity. “We’re hopeful that this amazing advance in technology helps bring peace to Mr. Niven’s family and allows him to eternally rest in peace,” he added.

How many people died in the 9/11 attack?

On the morning of September 11, 2001, hijackers deliberately crashed American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in Manhattan. Two other commercial jets were also hijacked in a coordinated attack by the militant Islamic group al-Qaeda. American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon, while brave passengers of United Flight 93 attempted to regain control before the aircraft crash-landed in rural Pennsylvania.

The attacks left 2,977 dead across three locations, making it the single deadliest event ever carried out on U.S. soil. This staggering loss of life included not only passengers and crews aboard the doomed flights but also emergency responders and civilians working within the towers.

Notably, the 19 hijackers from al-Qaeda also died in the attacks.

New DNA techniques lead to breakthroughs

In recent years, advanced “next-generation sequencing” technology offered more rapid, highly sensitive DNA analysis and enabled new identifications. This same genetic testing has helped the U.S. military identify missing personnel.

Identifying remains requires immense coordination under extreme challenges. Since the passenger jets and buildings’ destructive collapses left mostly fragmented body parts amid the wreckage, scientists have worked to connect over 21,900 human remains and personal artifacts found within the debris to specific victims.

According to the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office, the effort represents “the largest and most complex forensic investigation” ever undertaken in this nation’s history.

Where conventional DNA approaches once failed after years of attempts, newer capabilities allowed scientists to finally sequence genetic profiles from minute, degraded samples and match them to victims’ families.

New Generation technologies can now provide solace and closure even two decades later for those impacted by the traumatic events of September 11, 2001. Though the pain remains, names continue to be restored and heroes honored thanks to science lending a helping hand.