The 270 bodies airlifted here from Guyana Thursday and early today were already beginning to strain the capacity of the huge Dover Air Force base mortuary when officials found out that almost three times as many were yet to come.
Five refrigerator vans, usually used for long-distance hauling of fresh foods, were leased and parked behind the mortuary building to preserve the remains until military and FBI experts fresh identifying them. That process could take two to three weeks, according to Army Maj. William Shuler, Pentagon spokesman for the operation here.
Shuler said the mortuary will need at least more of the vans, which hold up to 100 corpses in bags. The ferrying of bodies here from Georgetown, Guyana, by Air Force C141 cargo planes is not likely to be completely until Sunday, Shuler said.
"We're beginning to feel the pinch now," Shuler said. He said the Army was preparing to send in a team of grave registration experts to aid the 44 Air Force civilian and FBI members who began the identification bodies Thursday night.
The staff of 10 FBI fingerprint technicians, sent in Thursday, whose first task was the positive identification of the body of Peoples Temple leader Jim Jones, was beign expanded to 18 today.
Michael White, spokesman here for the State Department, which is handling disposal of the bodies, said he did not know when the remains will begin to be released to the nearest relatives.
"I guess my heart sank a bit," Air Force Maj. Robert W. Groom, the base information chief, said of the news that 775 corpses instead of the earlier count of 409 will pass through Dover."It is taxing us. As of this morning I thought we were on the downward swing."
At the base golf course clubhouse, a receiving center set up for people seeking kin among the dead has had only about 30 phone inquiries in two days. One visitor was an active duty Air Force member stationed here who was looking for his grandmother's sister, a spokesman said.
Airlift flight crews and volunteer palbearers remarked repeatedly about the smell of the decaying bodies in metal containers.
"It was terrible - the weather and the smell," one flight crews member said Thursday as he came off the third plane, which was unloaded in a steady drizzle.
After ceremoniously handling about a dozen of the body containers, the volunteer crews began to treat the remains more like ordinary freight.
Although a chaplin still prayed at the landing of each plane, the men gradually dropped their slow, deliberats movements and began stacking the bodies two and three deep on flat-bed yellow freight haulers that quickly replaced vans which carried the first few to the mortuary.
By the last flight at about midnight Thursday, the containers were coming off the plane in groups of nine strapped together, three deep and three high.
Inside the containers said a military observer, the limbs had fallen off some bodies and they "had maggots all over them. I've been through two wars and this is, the worst I've ever seen.
From Washington, United Press International reported:
The cost of the U.S. body recovery mission at Jonestown, Guyana, is approaching $3 million and could run three times that much, State Department officials said.
At the Dover Air Force Base mortuary site, Michael White of the department's consular affairs office said officials have pegged the mission cost so far at " $2 million to $3 million, and it could triple."
John Bushnell, a deputy assistant secretary of state, said it is difficult to project a final cost figure because "there are major conceptual problems at how one looks at the costs."
Bushell said the Defense Department has estimated that, with fewer than 300 bodies returned from the Peoples Temple camp, expenses associated with the recovery mission had mounted to between $2 million and $3 million.
They covered such things as fuel, aircraft operation and the shipment back and forth of military equipment, but not such items as salaries for military and civilian U.S. personnel in Guyana.
On the plus side of the expense picture, Bushnell said "a number of people who have rather difficult responsibilities are getting through this operation the kind of training that, if it were a training exercise, would have been costly. To come up with total figure on all this is very hard."