Overview: During Halloween celebrations in the Itaewon neighborhood of Seoul, South Korea, on the evening of October 29, 2022, there was a crowd crush. There have been a minimum of 158 fatalities and 196 injuries. Young adults made up the majority of the victims. The crowd crush has killed more people than any other tragedy in South Korea since the MV Sewol sank in 2014, and it has killed more people in Seoul than any other incident since the Sampoong Department Store collapsed in 1995. It surpasses a 1959 incident at Busan Municipal Stadium, where 67 people were crushed to death, as the deadliest crowd crush in the nation.
Background of the case
With its chic nightclubs, eateries, and pubs, the Itaewon neighborhood in central Seoul is a well-liked destination for nightlife events. The Halloween celebrations in Itaewon drew some 100,000 people in the evening, largely in their teens and twenties. For the first time since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Halloween celebrations may be attended without causing social awkwardness or requiring the wearing of a mask.
But according to a Seoul-based tabloid, there were only 137 police officers on duty in Itaewon, which is significantly less than the 1,300 officers who were assigned to a BTS concert earlier in the month that was attended by 55,000 people. The Itaewon police substation reportedly asked for backup four days prior to the disaster because of the expected crowds, despite the fact that a police notification two days prior makes no mention of the crowd’s potential risk. Instead, it made plans for drug and alcohol misuse, thievery, heavy traffic, and sex crimes.
Extremely small, non-escape-routed streets and lanes define the area. The area where the crush occurred is connected to Itaewon-ro, the district’s main thoroughfare; the lane slopes steeply from Itaewon-ro and eventually intersects with another street. As a result, traffic along the curvy section of the route became congested and pushed downward. As they down the slope, people at the top tumbled on others below. Emergency responders had trouble entering the street because the lane was only around 45 meters (150 feet) long and 3.2 meters (10 feet) broad. After the hotel allegedly extended its terrace in an unauthorized manner with the help of more than $350,000 in fines paid over a nine-year period, the alley’s bottom measured barely 3.2 meters.
Itaewon Halloween Crowd Crush 2022
Police struggled to manage the crowd at the celebrations before the crush. Witnesses reported seeing a large number of revelers filling the streets, including the small downhill lane close to the Hamilton Hotel. Due to a large number of people, one participant who arrived earlier in the evening at 19:00 local time reported that it took more than 10 minutes to get to a meet-up location just a minute from Itaewon station. Between 18:00 and 22:00, at least 79 emergency calls to 112 were placed, with the first one coming in at 18:34. The caller claimed that a nearby alley to the Hamilton hotel was rapidly filling up and becoming dangerous. The caller clarified their concern about a huge accident when the official pushed them to do so. After being prodded by the representative, the caller clarified that they believed that a serious accident might occur if someone was crushed and fell.
At 22:20 local time (KST), a crowd crush happened along a street close to the Hamilton Hotel and Itaewon station Exit 1. Videos captured by eyewitnesses revealed that hundreds of individuals had been crammed into a large mass of bodies that were five or six people deep in the small alley. According to a participant, a group of young men began pushing others until they started falling, which caused the crush to begin. Some survivors asserted that local businesses had barred individuals from entering to flee the crowd since business hours had ended. Anger online was sparked by a viral video of some people having fun while supposedly blocking ambulances from the area.
There had been no discussion of crowd control that evening or in the days leading to Halloween, according to an officer who had been given the order to wait to be dispatched in response to any crimes that night. He was caught on camera trying to dissuade more people from entering the top of the alleyway after noticing the crowd while reacting to a possible fight nearby.
According to emergency personnel, at least 11 calls were placed by patients who were suffocating from compression. Four ambulances were sent after calls to the fire department at 22:15. Ambulances had a hard time getting to the scene due to the enormous throng. Critical first aid and resuscitation were delayed because first responders found it difficult to remove still-breathing individuals from the crowd when they arrived. Pulling individuals out of the mob was assisted by three off-duty United States Forces Korea troops who managed to flee by leaping onto a ledge. One remembered that at its worst, the crowd mass was 15 feet (4.6 m) deep, which meant that “it was a long time for folks locked in there not to breathe.”
Dozens more unconscious victims emerged as space was cleared and individuals were removed from the crowd. The victims received CPR from paramedics, police, and onlookers. Videos posted to social media revealed chaotic situations when spectators trying to revive the unconscious were costumed as characters. Before well past midnight, emergency personnel still couldn’t free everyone from the crowd. Upon the failure of resuscitation, bodies were wrapped with clothing and blankets before being set out on the streets by medical and law enforcement officers. Ambulances carried some bodies during their transit.
At about 23:45, 83 additional ambulances had reached the scene. Because of the volume of communications attempted, phone and internet reception temporarily became saturated and unusable in the district. The Soonchunhyang University Hospital, which is close to Itaewon, received a large number of victims. An “emergency accident at Hamilton Hotel in Itaewon” was the reason for an emergency message sent to mobile phones in Yongsan advising residents to head home right away.
The National Fire Agency and the Interior Ministry reported that there were 848 emergency professionals on the site, including all of the Seoul-based employees, as well as 140 trucks and 346 firefighters from around the nation. While on a normal patrol in the region with National Police Agency officers, US Army military police forces of United States Forces Korea aided with first aid and upholding public order. Numerous people were reportedly saved from the crash by at least three American servicemen.