South Korea’s Halloween Crowd Crush

Ambulance and police at the site of the crowd crush in the district of Itaewon in Seoul, South Korea. (Jung Yeon-Je/AFP via Getty Images)

By Veronica Bargnesi

At 5pm on October 29th, the streets of the Itaewon district in Seoul, South Korea were crowded with young people celebrating Halloween. As time went on, these streets became unbelievably packed. A witness at the event had called the police and warned them, “That alley is really dangerous right now with people going up and down; people can’t come down, but people keep coming up, it’s gonna be crushed. I barely made it to get out but it’s too crowded. I think you should control it.” The caller was told that someone would go and check, but nothing happened for hours. Around 9pm, callers reported that people were being trampled on. The crowd crush began in a narrow alleyway. There were three crowds coming from different directions who all then moved into the alleyway, making it impossible to get out. Some citizens tried to climb the sides of buildings to get out. 156 people were killed and 196 people were injured.

A week later, authorities launched an investigation and raided local police and fire stations. The president of South Korea and the national police chief issued a public apology and vowed to take safety measures in the future. The people of Korea were ashamed of the authorities’ inability to protect the young. Vigil-protests took place all over the capital of Korea, Seoul. Candlelight Action, an alliance of progressive groups, organized a big vigil-protest right near the city hall. People carried signs that said “Stepping down is an expression of condolence,” a message for President Yoon Suk-yeol. A speaker at the event said, “Although the government clearly has responsibility, it is looking for perpetrators from irrelevant organizations… the incident occurred because the government did not play its very basic role.” Other signs that protesters held said “At 6:34 the country was not there”. At 6:34 the first police call was made, hours before the crowd crush. There were 11 calls made that night in total.

Dr. Rami Hashish, a body performance and injury expert, says that crowd crushes are caused by a phenomenon called ‘groupthink’. This happens when one person or multiple people perform an action and the whole crowd adapts to that action. For example, when one person starts pushing, everyone will start to push. As the heat level rises, people become more fatigued. People also begin to panic in these situations, so their breathing pattern may become irregular, which can cause someone to stop breathing. Dr. Hashish says the best thing to do in these situations is to remain calm and save your energy. He also says if you can, try to stay away from crowds and to become familiar with the place so you can create an escape plan.