| 3 March 2024, Sunday |

Emergency calls reveal growing desperation before South Korea Halloween crush

Transcripts of the 11 emergency calls made in the hours and minutes leading up to a Halloween party crush in Seoul that killed more than 150 people show how the partygoers had begged the authorities to step in due to their rising dread.

According to the police’s release of the emergency call transcripts, there was a first warning of a potentially fatal surge on Saturday at 6:34 p.m., or about four hours before the crush became fatal.

National Police Commissioner General Yoon Hee-keun on Tuesday acknowledged crowd control at the scene was “inadequate”, noting that police had received multiple reports warning of possible accidents on the night of the disaster.

The interior minister and the city mayor have also apologised. Proper crowd and traffic control by the authorities could have prevented or at least reduced the surge of partygoers, safety experts have said.

The transcripts, released to media, give a chilling prediction of how the tragedy would unfold.

“Looks like you can get crushed to death with people keep coming up here while there’s no room for people to go down,” a citizen said in that first call. “I barely managed to leave but there are too many people, looks like you should come and control.”

The crush on Saturday night killed 156 people, many in their teens and 20s, and injured another 157 as revellers flooded the narrow alleyways of the popular Itaewon district to mark the first virtually unrestricted Halloween festivities in three years.

Police received 10 other similar calls before the chaos was known to have turned fatal – and released all those transcripts on Tuesday.

The transcripts seem to corroborate what witnesses told Reuters about seeing some police directing traffic on the major road but few or no officers on the busy side streets and pedestrian-heavy lanes.

On Saturday, it was believed that some 100,000 people were in Itaewon, a district famed for its hills and winding streets. According to the officials, 137 police officers were present at the time.

  • Reuters