Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Dec 17, 2019

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Obtaining a death certificate for a loved one killed in an aviation accident can be a very difficult process. Legally, the death certificate cannot be issued until the body is identified, and this is not possible in all cases. If it is possible, the local medical examiner in the area where the crash took place will be in charge of that process, and s/he will be responsible for providing you with the certificate when your loved one has officially been identified. The amount of time this might take can vary greatly depending on the nature of the airplane crash, the number of victims, and the size and efficiency of the medical examiner’s office.

Identifications in an Airplane Crash

In a situation where a passenger cannot be identified after the crash (and where in effect there is no body for analysis), getting a death certificate becomes very complicated. Some people mistakenly assume that, in this situation, the “seven-year” rule might apply: this rule states that when a person goes missing, they must be missing for seven years before being legally declared dead. This is not the case in a situation where it’s known the person is dead, but their remains cannot be recovered. However, there is still going to be a long process and a wait time.

Essentially, the first step is to handle the legal red tape. The medical examiner will have to legally prove that all possible attempts to identify the bodies occurred and failed; and the courts will have to determine that your loved one was on the flight. In other words, all legal and practical avenues have to be checked off the list. Only at that time could you be issued a death certificate.

Getting Help – Aviation Accidents

It can be immensely helpful to hire an experienced lawyer should you find yourself in this type of holding pattern. A lawyer can help advocate for your rights and keep the process moving. Waiting for a death certificate can be emotionally and financially devastating for a number of reasons, and an experienced lawyer will help ensure the situation is resolved as soon as possible.