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Canadian ID of Titanic baby false: researchers; 'We were under pressure'

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  • Canadian ID of Titanic baby false: researchers; 'We were under pressure'

    PUBLICATION: National Post
    DATE: 2007.07.30
    EDITION: All But Toronto
    SECTION: Canada
    PAGE: A5
    BYLINE: Alan Hustak
    SOURCE: CanWest News Service

    Canadian ID of Titanic baby false: researchers; 'We were under pressure'

    Five years ago, a Canadian forensic team made international headlines when it announced it had identified the unknown child whose body was recovered from the wreck of the Titanic in 1912.

    That identification was wrong. The team originally said the child was 13-month-old Eino Panula, a Finnish infant who drowned with his parents in the disaster that claimed 1,500 lives. Now, the researchers believe the baby is 19-month-old Sidney Leslie Goodwin, a third-class passenger, travelling from Fulham, England, to Niagara Falls, N.Y.

    On May 4, 1912, the body recovered from the North Atlantic was buried with moving fanfare at Fairview Lawn cemetery in Halifax. A small tombstone erected "to the memory of an unknown child whose remains were recovered after the Titanic disaster" has marked the spot ever since.

    Over the years, many speculated as to the child's identity. Only as DNA technology developed did researchers dare hope the mystery could be solved. In 2001, Canadian scientists exhumed the unknown child's body, recovering three teeth and a six-centimetre fragment of bone. Examination of the tiny teeth led a dental expert to suggest the child might be about a year old, drastically narrowing the field of likely candidates.

    Using DNA tracked down from suspected maternal relatives, tests conducted by Ryan Parr at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay quickly eliminated three of them. By elimination, the child was identified as Eino.

    The findings, and Eino's identity, were announced the following year in a highly publicized television documentary, Secrets of the Dead: Titanic's Ghosts, produced by New York's Engel Brothers Media. Eino's distant relatives in Finland travelled from Helsinki to visit the gravesite, where Allan Ruffman, a Halifax-based oceanographer and member of the research team, declared: "He is no longer an unknown child. He can have a name on his tombstone."

    Now, according to a report in the latest issue of Voyage, the official journal of the Titanic International Society, the announcement five years ago was simply wrong. In an interview with The Gazette, Mr. Ruffman acknowledged yesterday that the initial identification was too hasty. "We were under pressure at the time by the U.S. television team doing the History Channel documentary to identify the child, and based on the evidence we had at the time, we did so," Mr. Ruffman said.

    What the scientists did not fully appreciate at the time is that there are two mitochondrial DNA molecules -- HVS1 and HVS2. In 2002, they thought they needed to test only one of them, the HVS1.