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Itaewon Tragedy: What Truly Happened on the 29th of October in Seoul?

Beatriz Saliba

Tragedy struck the capital of Seoul on the 29th of October this year. What was supposed to be a night full of joy and laughter for the young adults in the city, became an absolute nightmare in the blink of an eye. 150+ deaths were caused by crowd crushing in the streets of Itaewon. This drastic event will never be forgotten.

Itaewon is the centre of the South Korean capital of Seoul. The area is filled with bars and restaurants, mainly attracting young adults across the city. On the evening of the crush, it was said that more than 100,000 people had passed by Itaewon. On the 29th, people were seen gathering to celebrate Halloween from the start of the evening already. An IT worker, Nuhyil Ahammed, who had been in the crowd, stated that he had been to many parties in Itaewon before during Halloween, however things felt different this year.

Around 5pm, when the streets began to fill up, messages on social media were already being published, declaring that some felt unsafe due to the amount of people in the crowd. The first official call to police from the area came at 18:34, which was several hours from when the actual crush took place.

The caller said that the alley where the crush occurred was “really dangerous right now people going up and down, so 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”. They even stated that the situation they were in felt “chilling”, and were left with a promise from the officer stating that reinforcements would come. However they only came hours later….

Authorities claim that they had 137 ground officers in Itaewon on the night of the tragedy. However this number clearly wasn’t enough, for the officers were completely outmatched by the thousands of citizens flocking the area.

After the first call, at least 10 more were made in the next 3 hours. They all started to come at around 20:09 onwards. The callers began describing what was ahead of them, including citizens stumbling, getting injured, and begging for help. Out of the 11 official calls that reached police officials, officers were only sent to the scenario for 4 of them.

Minutes after the last call was made, which was at exactly 22:11, the crush began to occur. At around 22:15, a large quantity of people that were standing at the sloping pathway began to fall over onto the streets of the area. Since there were crowds surrounding the alley, pressing both ends, it was physically impossible to leave it.

Some began to climb up buildings to escape the suffocation. Reports to fire authorities began to arise, claiming that people were being pushed down under the crowd, and others weren’t able to breathe at all. Mr. Ahammed described the movement of the crowd “like a wave”. He stated that "People were suffocating, screaming, getting squeezed, falling... there were just too many people".

Ambulances began to become more frequently deployed by 23:00, and at 23:19, all Halloween events were officially called off by authorities. People began to perform CPR on ones needing it on the street. Videos displayed bodies covered with blue sheets.

At 2:30am, the first confirmed death toll was pronounced, determined that 59 had passed away, along with 150 others who were injured. Numbers kept rising, and as the night went on, 150 deaths were surpassed.

Hours after the event unfolded, the president of South Korea, Yoon Suk-yeol, declared that a formal investigation would be placed to unfold the occurrence of the crush. On Sunday morning, a period of national mourning was announced.


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