A Pennsylvania couple's underwater photograph of what may be Natalee Holloway's remains has reportedly prompted authorities to send a dive team into the waters off Aruba to investigate. But the underwater image has prompted skepticism from one forensic pathologist, who says it's probably not a skeleton.
"I do not believe that these photos represent a body. I think it's a rock formation that certainly does present upon initial perception a suggestion of a human skeletal remains, but I do not believe that it is," Dr. Cyril Wecht said.
After looking at the photograph that first appeared in the Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era newspaper, Wecht, one of the country's leading forensic pathologists, said the image doesn't match what a skeleton should look like.
"If you look at what would have to be the head you see that it does not really fit. It it's a front view, then what would be orbital sockets are far too low. If it's a rear view, then that does not fit because there's a lower portion that would not fit in with the neck," Wecht said.
Wecht said it's not likely that the skeleton of the missing teen could remain intact for that long.
"The whole idea of a skeletal remains being in the water for a period of a couple of months shy of five years is just untenable," Wecht said.
Patti Muldowney, 62, of Rapho Township, Pa., took the photo while snorkeling off the coast of Aruba.
She told the Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era that she noticed the photo after returning home and getting the film developed.
Ann Angela, a spokeswoman for the public prosecutor's office in Aruba, said Saturday she was not authorized to say when the divers would be dispatched, except that it would happen "in the very near future."
On Sunday, Angela said the dive would be planned for the southern part of the island and the results would not be made public until Monday or later.
The Birmingham News reported that the divers already began the search over the weekend.
But one of the challenges the dive team faces is finding exactly where the photograph was taken.
"We have received the photo," Angela said Saturday. "The problem is that the couple cannot say exactly where they took the picture. They cannot point to the exact location. But someone has now come forward who believes that they know the spot. So we are going to do a preliminary investigation, which means a dive team will be dispatched to that location."
Angela said any evidence found during any dive to investigate the photo likely would be sent to the Dutch Forensic Institute in the Hague.
She added that it was not uncommon for human remains to be found off the coast and cautioned that even if a body was discovered, it might not be Holloway's.
Muldowney and her husband, John, initially showed the photograph to local police and forwarded it to FBI, which told them it would investigate.
The FBI provided the photo to Aruban authorities, Angela said Sunday, but had not been invited to participate in the Aruban investigation.
Holloway went missing in May 2005 during a high school graduation trip to Aruba. Her disappearance became an international cause celebre.