Crowd Crush in South Korea


Photo Courtesy WSJ

On October 29, 2022, thousands of young people gathered in Itaewon, a place known for its nightlife as well as its high population of foreigners, to celebrate Halloween. Halloween has only become popular in Korea in recent years due to the influence American culture has had on social media. For most people, Itaewon was the best place to go since it includes many aspects of international culture. However, even for business owners there, the number of people in Itaewon that night was unprecedented with 130,000 people coming from all over the world to celebrate. 

Despite its good intentions, things quickly turned for the worse when 156 people were killed and 151 more were injured in a deadly crowd crush. The tragedy occurred in a narrow alley said to be about 4 meters wide, where the paths of three separate roads intersected. Hours before the incident, South Korea’s emergency number received dozens of phone calls from people asking the police department to help manage the crowd; however, their cries for help were not heard. The severe lack of police enforcement regulating the crowd led to a mass of people becoming stuck in the alley while even more people were flowing in from both sides. 

In a crowd crush, people are so densely packed together that it becomes difficult to breathe or escape. In this case, there were over 5 people per square meter. When people are so pressed together, they begin to move similarly to a liquid where the forces of people moving in from both sides cause the whole crowd to move together as a single unit. The force of the crowd alone was so strong that many died from compression asphyxiation or broken ribs that pierced through their lungs. 

Once healthcare officials finally arrived, many citizens had to help administer CPR as there were not enough emergency workers who could provide assistance to the victims of the crowd crush. Many people reported that they saw people frantically giving their loved ones CPR all across the block, even as their bodies slowly began to turn cold. Victims of this horrific accident were quickly taken away to nearby hospitals for treatment, while their family members remained in the dark about whether their loved ones will survive. Over the course of the next few days, they would be notified about the state of their loved ones and called in to identify the body or claim the victim’s belongings. That same night, President Yoon Suk-seol declared a period of national mourning from October 30 to November 5, and global leaders in Korea and foreign countries alike have begun to rethink how they can prevent more tragedies like this from happening again.