Timeline of a disaster: Seoul's fatal crowd crush

Taejun Kang, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Nov 01 2022 04:45 PM

Victims in Seoul's Itaewon district after a stampede during Halloween parties in Seoul, South Korea, Oct. 30, 2022. Jeon Heon-Kyun, EPA-EFE
Victims in Seoul's Itaewon district after a stampede during Halloween parties in Seoul, South Korea, Oct. 30, 2022. Jeon Heon-Kyun, EPA-EFE

SEOUL — After South Korean officials concede that there were errors in crowd control on Halloween, AFP uses official data, media reports and eyewitness testimony to examine the timeline of the disaster that left 156 people dead.


On Oct. 27, 2 days before, police estimate 100,000 people will attend the Halloween event in Seoul's Itaewon nightlife district. They announce plans to deploy 200 officers.

As the party is not an "official" event, authorities do not plan to deploy stewards to handle the crowd.


By mid-afternoon on Oct. 29, tens of thousands of people, many in Halloween costumes, are flooding into Itaewon's narrow streets.

By 8:30 p.m. the alleyway at the epicenter of the crush is packed. Some partygoers are already sustaining injuries due to the crowd density.

"I notified the police but nobody showed up," a nightclub worker told local media, saying they twice spoke to officers on the phone before the disaster.

At 9:16 p.m. a livestreamer goes to a police station about 10 meters from the alley, warning that the crowd is dangerously dense.

Police ignored her, she says in a stream that she later deletes.

National police chief Yoon Hee-keun admitted Tuesday that police had received "multiple reports" urgently indicating danger in the area, but handled the information in an "insufficient" way.


At 10 p.m., people at the top of the sloping alleyway next to the Hamilton Hotel start falling over, eyewitnesses say.

People at the bottom of the slope cannot exit due to crowds coming the other direction -- out of Itaewon subway station exits 1 and 2 and out of the Hamilton Hotel main entrance.

People fell "like dominoes", pushing into those in front of them who are immediately trapped, trampled and crushed. 

Between 10:15 p.m. and 10:22 p.m. the Yongsan Fire Station starts receiving multiple calls about a "crush accident" or stampede. They dispatch first responders between 10:15 and 10:27 p.m.

Calls from people reporting difficulty breathing keep coming in -- more than 81 requests for help by 10:43 pm, at which point authorities declare a "first-stage emergency response order".

Emergency responders reach the scene and start performing emergency CPR on victims in the streets, but are quickly overwhelmed, asking members of the public to assist.

At 11:13 p.m., a second-stage order is issued. It is upgraded to a third-stage order at 11:50 p.m.

President Yoon Suk-yeol orders officials to urgently dispatch disaster medical assistance teams.


The president then oversees a meeting of the central disaster management team.

At the scene, emergency workers and bystanders struggle to drag victims out of the crush of bodies in the alleyway.

"We were pulling them out but we couldn't because all these people were jam-packed and that creates a lot of weight," Jarmil Taylor, who was caught in the crush at the top of the alley, told AFP.

Emergency workers did not manage to get everyone out of the crush until well after midnight.

"It was a long time for people stuck in there not to breathe," Dane Beathard, a witness, told AFP.

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Police are attempting to move people away from the scene, but the crowd is too dense and does not easily disperse.

At 1 a.m., police order businesses in the area to close.

By this point, emergency workers have pulled scores of people out of the crush and, with the help of passersby, are desperately trying to revive them. Other partygoers -- seemingly oblivious to the unfolding disaster -- continue celebrations nearby.

"There were more than 50 people lying down, but I couldn't look at them because the scene was appalling," an eyewitness surnamed Choi said, adding that barely anyone she helped was successfully revived.

Around 2 a.m., President Yoon bans anyone except officials and medical workers from entering Itaewon.


Around 3 a.m. the fire department says 120 people have died and warn the toll will rise as many of those rescued are in critical condition.

The Itaewon subway station quickly becomes congested as people try to leave. The city deploys extra buses at 3:50 a.m. to help.

At 4 a.m., the fire department says 146 people have been killed and 150 more injured.

There are still partygoers trapped in the area. The city sends additional subway cars to Itaewon station at 5 a.m.


At 9:45 a.m. Sunday, President Yoon addresses the nation in a televised speech, saying the disaster "should not have happened" and vows a full investigation.

As of Nov. 1, the death toll stands at 156, mostly young women, with scores more injured, some still in critical condition.

It is one of the worst-ever disasters in South Korean history. 

© Agence France-Presse

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