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The Investigation into South Korea’s Crush Continues as Survivors Recount the Tragedy

South Korea’s Crush could have been avoided with more planning and crowd control. Here’s how it happened.

Itaewon, South Korea Crush
Credit: Youtube/Arirang News

On the night of October 29, around 100,000 people, predominantly in their teens and 20s, flooded into a 3.2-meter-wide alley in Itaewon, South Korea.

It had been one of the first significant celebrations since the inputting of Covid regulations and was the deadliest since the 2014 ferry sinking that killed 304 people, primarily high school students.

At around 10 p.m., commotion struck on a small, steep alleyway connecting a hatful of bars and clubs. Spectators described the crowd amassing from varied directions, causing many to trip and fall, triggering a “domino effect”.  

Bodies fell upon bodies, limbs intertwined, leaving many without air to breathe. Others attempted climbing the bricked walls of buildings to flee.

Only 137 police officers were allocated to control the crowd, as the death toll has risen to 154. Some 149 have been injured, with 33 in serious condition. Approximately 14 nationalities were among the passed.

Police initiated a 475-member task force investigation, yet the cause remains unclear. As of now, claims such as Intentional pushing, drugs, and a rumored celebrity in the location are being considered.

Nam Gu-Jun, Police Chief Investigator, tells reporters, “We are analyzing CCTVs to find out the exact cause of the accident.”

“We will continue questioning more witnesses, including nearby shop employees,” he continues.

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A witness said he saw a high heel stuck in someone’s thigh in the incident. #itaewon #tragedy #southkorea #seoul

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Earlier this week, people placed white chrysanthemums, candles and beverages near the alleyway.

President of South Korea, Yoon Suk-yeol, voices he feels “indescribable sadness and responsibility as the president in charge of the life and safety of the people.”

“It is necessary to come up with a safety management system for preventing crowd accidents that can be applied to voluntary group events without an organizer like this one.”

The tragedy happened just as Itaewon was beginning to flourish after years of Covid restrictions. Any prearranged Halloween events were canceled, including concerns and government meetings.

How did the Crowd Crush Happen?

Professor Edwin Galea, a crowd behavior expert at the University of Greenwich, tells The Guardian, “Overcrowding, unmanaged crowds, and wide paths filtering into narrow paths are a recipe for disaster.”

Crowds that grow beyond four people per square meter become increasingly more at risk of injury. Crowd crushes ensue when people are pushed and forced into a small space without a way of escaping. As such, the lungs are incapable of receiving oxygen and become in danger of compressive asphyxiation. Those pressed against a wall are at a higher risk of dying.

“First, it’s apparent that density was over five people per square meter, which is very dangerous. Second, there were waves of people that lifted people off their feet. When people are closely packed together, a small movement can ripple through the crowd and cause further pressure. Third, I understand that there was a crowd collapse as some people fell over and others fell on top of them,” says John Drury, an expert on the social psychology of crowd management at the University of Sussex.

 G Keith Still, a crowd safety expert, asserts that crowd crushes are entirely “preventable, predictable and avoidable”.

“People don’t die because they panic. They panic because they are dying.”

“Stampede is not only an incorrect term, but it is also a loaded word as it apportions blame to the victims for behaving in an irrational, self-destructive, unthinking and uncaring manner,” Edwin Galea voices.

“In virtually all these situations this is not the case, and it is usually the authorities to blame for poor planning, poor design, poor control, poor policing, and mismanagement. The truth is that people are only directly crushed by others who have no choice in the matter, and the people who can choose don’t know what is going on because they’re too far away from the epicenter,” he resumes.

“At what point did anyone in this crowd think ‘Let’s become a mob’,” he probes. “They didn’t – they reacted to the extreme density and could not escape, leading to a progressive crowd collapse and mass fatalities. People don’t die because they panic. They panic because they are dying.”

The Victims

Nuhyil Ahammed, one of the victims who survived the events, told the BBC he can “still see people dying in front of me.”

“People began pushing from behind, it was like a wave – there was nothing you could do,” Nuhyil Ahammed says.

Footage of the crowd on social media shows young people packed into the alleyways struggling to breathe.

“Even if you stand still, someone pushes you from the front and someone from the back,” Ahammed communicated to the BBC. “It happened a few times. I realized something was wrong. I felt afraid something was going to happen.”

When he fell, a “woman with angels wings” told him to climb a step.

“They started pulling bodies from underneath. One guy,” he utters, “he knows his friend is dead but he keeps giving him CPR for 30 mins.”

Yoon admitted there were several calls to the country’s emergency hotline before the fatal crash transpired.

Among the dead were victims: Actor Lee Jihan (24), Choi Boseong (24), who was celebrating his birthday, Aspiring fashion designer Rhau (21), Australian film producer Grace Rached (23), Steven Blesi, who was studying abroad (20), Anne Gieske studying a nursing degree in Seoul for a semester (20), Tomikawa Mei who was studying Korean (26), Dinh Thi Tuyen who was studying tourism and hospitality (21), Madina Sherniyazova who was studying a master’s degree in Seoul University (26), Natnicha Makaew who be finishing her Korean language training (27).

We pay respects to any of the affected, including the victims’ families and friends.

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