Deadly ‘Crowd Crush’ Disaster Strikes South Korea’s First Post-Covid Halloween


""Crowd in Seoul"/Craig Nagy/flicr/CC by SA 22/

Large crowds like this aren’t uncommon in Seoul, South Korea, which is why the size in the crowd wasn’t an issue at first in Itaewon. The “crowd crush” incident claimed approximately 150 lives. (Craig Nagy / Flicker)

Lea Ciccarelli, Staff Writer

On Oct. 29, thousands of people flocked to the Itaewon District in Seoul, South Korea. What was intended to be a nighttime of celebration and fun Halloween festivities turned into one of the deadliest incidents to occur in the East Asian nation since the tragic ferry boat accident in 2014, after an unidentified disturbance caused a “crowd crush” that killed approximately 150 people.

Itaewon is a popular district among young people in South Korea, and is well known for its bars, nightclubs and fun activities. It was no surprise that the crowd was large this year due to the fact that previous Covid-19 restrictions had been lifted. The estimated number of people who flocked to Itaewon that night was around 100,000. 

The Itaewon district has many side streets that connect to its main roads, and these thin alleyways are where the unfortunate “crowd crush” accident took place.

As the crowd began to compress, people quickly became trapped as they tried to make it to the main street. In a desperate attempt to get through, some people trapped in the back began to shout “push!” to encourage movement. As a result of the intense pressure, many people were injured or killed.

Bystanders did their best to pull people from the crowd or drag them to safety to perform CPR. However, for many it was too late. At least 156 people were killed, and over 100 were injured and hospitalized. Around 1,000 missing persons cases were also reported.

The majority of the victims were teenagers and young adults, specifically in their 20s and 30s. Over two-thirds of the victims were women. Some of the victims were foreign nationals, including Steven Blesi, a 20-year-old student at Kennesaw State University.

Following the tragedy, President Yoon and the South Korean national government declared a period of mourning until midnight on Nov. 5. 

South Korean law enforcement has faced heavy backlash from the families of the victims, as it was discovered they may be at least partially to blame for the accident.

Starting at 6:34 p.m. on the night of the incident, the police received 11 emergency calls asking them to control the crowds in Itaewon. However, the police had already dispatched 7,000 officers to go assist with government protests that were happening nearby, and only sent about 137 officers to Itaewon.

The South Korean government launched an investigation, which involved the officers obtaining video from 50 security cameras and social media. They have also interviewed over 40 witnesses and survivors.  

Since the launch of the investigation, a 55-year-old officer, who was in charge of the Intelligence Affairs department, was found dead on Nov. 11.  The officer was accused of destroying evidence that showed the police knew about the crowd risk beforehand. Specifically, he was accused of deleting an internal report that had contained warnings about the potential safety risks that Halloween night.

While the root cause of the “crowd crush” has yet to be named, global sympathies rest with the country of South Korea, the victims and their loved ones.