For the families of those lost in inexplicable circumstances, uncertainty is like an open wound.
Whenever human lives are lost through accident or catastrophe, the often repeated sentiment expressed by families and friends is the awful pain of not knowing what happened or where a loved one's remains may be.
Such is the case with the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 on March 8, 2014, on its journey from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
There were 239 passengers and crew on board, including six Australians.
Despite one of the biggest seafloor searches ever conducted, the mystery of MH370 remains.
For those emergency services workers who are trained and have experience in recovering human remains after a violent mass incident and help to identify the victims, it's the importance of an outcome for the victims' families that keeps them going back.
The task is not for the squeamish, nor for those of emotional frailty.
Station Sergeant Rod Anderson, who runs Gungahlin police station, doesn't consider himself any more resilient than most ACT police officers.
But he admits that his supervisory role with the federal police disaster victim identification team has placed him in environments and circumstances that most people would find extremely challenging.
Picture, for instance, the crash scene in the Ukraine where Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, en route from the Netherlands to Kuala Lumpur, was shot down by a Russian anti-aircraft missile.
Body parts of the 283 passengers and 15 crew which weren't incinerated in the original blast were largely shattered by the explosive decompression and spread over many square kilometres, raining down on the rural countryside from 10,000 metres.
Civilians, some of them workers from the local Shizhne coal mine, and local emergency service workers were given the gruesome task of gathering the parts and bagging them up, aware that exposing human body parts to the Ukrainian summer heat would accelerate putrefaction.
They were also within an active conflict zone with shells crossing the sky over their heads and nearby gunfire exchanges between the Ukrainians and pro-Russian forces.
"It wasn't until later on that we realised those first people on the ground in the Ukraine did a pretty good search and recovery considering the significant difficulties they must have faced," Sergeant Anderson said.
But as they unloaded the bags in the makeshift mortuary away from the crash site, the Australian team then became aware of the enormous extent of the victim identification task ahead, with 298 deceased passengers and crew to account for.
"Without any form of labelling on each bag, we had no idea what was inside, whether it was a male, a female, or what physical part of a person each bag contained," he said.
"What we have always spoken about as a team is the need to show respect and dignity to the victims, and the importance of doing the best job you possibly can.
"These people were innocent; every single person on that plane mattered."
Just a day or two before the incident, he had been in Canberra having an early morning coffee with some mates when he received news about the downing of MH17.
The 120 or so men and women who are members of the disaster victim identification team all have many and varied other roles within the federal police right across the country, and with the ACT community police.
Some patrol in uniform, some are detectives, some are in traffic operations, others are in intelligence-gathering.
These people were innocent; every single person on that plane mattered.Station Sergeant Rod Anderson
Sergeant Anderson's rank within the disaster identification network is that of a commander, working alongside the federal police's internationally respected Dr Simon Walsh.
"When I first heard the news, I honestly didn't think we would be going because unless Australians are involved or other countries ask for our assistance, our team doesn't go," he said.
"But then a few minutes later Simon [Walsh] rang me and confirmed there could be as many as 30 Australians on board and that changed the situation completely.
"That's when we knew to get prepared even though the answers to the how, when and where questions are still unknown."
The disaster victim identification course run by the federal police is heavily oversubscribed, which may be attributable to the rise in popular forensic-related TV shows.
Television puffery generally presents an inaccurate portrayal of forensic work and victim identification, with crime scene investigators regularly swapping between their tailored white lab coats to piece together the evidence and plainclothes detective garb for their pistol-toting, badge-waving arrests.
It's a long way from the modern policing reality and the sweaty confines of the personal protective equipment. Team members usually wear plastic "onesies", including booties, masks and gloves, for hours on end to protect themselves from infection and prevent contaminating the environment.
The protective gear is all-encompassing, physically unflattering and most uncomfortable.
Police officers are drilled with the utmost need to protect the crime scene from contamination and to preserve evidence.
But in victim identification, officers can be operating a long way from the scene (as was the case with MH17), completely within the scene but not investigating a crime (as was the case with the 2004 Boxing Day tsunamis), or recovering bodies from a full-blown crime scene (as was the case with the 2002 Bali bombings).
For that reason, the team is multi-skilled and has the ability to call in a wide range of clinical specialists for gathering and assessing DNA, dental examinations, fingerprints, and bone structure.
"It's not just a police process," Sergeant Anderson said.
"While police are usually the lead agency, there are a whole range of specialists that knit into the process according to the type of incident."
While the team is aware of the pressing external demands to formally identify victims, it's a pressure they do their best to ignore. This is a clinical process, which takes "as long as it takes".
In the case of MH17, some of the identification work began at the local mortuary. But this process was halted, and the task transferred to the Ukraine-controlled area of Kharviv. Every body bag had to be X-rayed to make sure it didn't contain a bomb.
All the bodies, or those remains that could be recovered, were then sent on to Eindhoven and then Hilversum in the Netherlands where the detailed forensic work began.
About 5000 human remains in total were examined, from which about 500 metal particles were extracted.
The iron extracted from the remains helped to identify the missile which took out the aircraft and track down the perpetrators. While they have been identified, they are never likely to face justice.
For those police officers like Rod Anderson who do their everyday roles but remain ready for the call, working in victim identification is seen as a privilege.
"It sounds a bit trite but it's true; talk to police officers about why they joined and most will tell you that it was because they want to help other people and make a difference," he said.
"As a human being, giving these grieving families some comfort in times of crisis is some of the most important work that anyone can do."