South Korean police officials have released transcripts of eleven emergency calls made hours before the tragic Halloween stampede that killed 156 people in Itaewon, South Korea, Saturday.
The first emergency call was recorded at 6:34 p.m. local time, which revealed the first warning of the possible danger facing the crowd gathering at the nightlife hub.
“That alley is 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,” the caller said, a transcript of which was published by the BBC.
“This is so chilling right now,” the caller added.
At 8:33 p.m., another caller told the emergency operator that people were falling down on the streets.
“It’s too dangerous. I think an accident might happen. It’s out of control. I think something could go seriously wrong,” the second caller warned, The Korean Herald reported.
The last two calls before the tragedy happened, at 10 p.m. and 10:11 p.m., both warned of people being “crushed to death.”
“I think we’ll be crushed to death here. It’s a disaster,” the eleventh caller noted.
National Police Commissioner General Yoon Hee-keun admitted to the agency’s “inadequate” crowd control as the authorities are facing growing public scrutiny over the incident.
“I feel a heavy responsibility as the head of one of the related government offices,” Yoon said, as quoted by PBS.
Yoon vowed to investigate extensively to “explain the truth of this accident.”
“Police will do their best to prevent a tragedy like this from happening again,” the commissioner general added.
An estimated 100,000 people flocked to Itaewon on Saturday evening, with only 137 police officers managing the area. Before the pandemic, the police mobilized 34 to 90 officers yearly to the district for the Halloween festivities, NPR reported.
There were two meetings set by the Yongsan-gu local council in October to discuss how to handle the weekend’s event, according to BBC. The meeting focused on COVID-19 precautions, an inspection of food vendors and safety at big venues. However, there is no evidence that crowd control was among the topics discussed.
Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon apologized for the incident as he shared a moment with the parent of one of the victims.
“When I tried to comfort a person with a daughter hospitalized at the National Medical Center yesterday, they said their daughter would survive and they believed so,” the mayor said.
“But I heard she passed away this morning. I am sorry that my apology has come late.”
President Yoon Suk-Yeol has declared a week of national mourning following the tragic incident. The leader also called for the use of technology, such as drones, for effective crowd management.