A grieving family has been left doubly devastated after it emerged the coffin containing their deceased relative released to them by a West Australian hospital was empty.
The WA Country Health Service has launched an immediate investigation into how the empty coffin was released to the family in Meekatharra in the state's Mid West region.
It is understood the coffin was buried before it was realised the body was not inside.
Margaret Denton, the regional director of the Midwest section of the WA Country Health Service, admitted the situation was "totally unacceptable".
"I would like to express my deepest sympathy to the deceased's family and apologise for the distress that this has caused them," Ms Denton said.
"I can't imagine the distress that his must have caused this family."
The investigation will look into all aspects of the error, which is said to have come to light last week.
"As soon as I became aware of this, I started an immediate investigation to determine how this had occurred," Ms Denton said.
"Information from the investigation will be used to improve systems and ensure that this doesn't happen again."
The distressed family would be kept fully informed, Ms Denton said.