[Itaewon disaster] Emergency calls end in screams and groans

Posted on : 2022-11-09 15:14 KST Modified on : 2022-11-09 16:41 KST
Authorities release transcripts of 87 of 100 calls to the 119 emergency hotline, not including those that went unanswered
Visitors to Exit 1 of Itaewon Station, in Seoul’s Yongsan District, are mourning the victims of the Itaewon crowd crush on Tuesday morning. (Shin So-young/The Hankyoreh)
Visitors to Exit 1 of Itaewon Station, in Seoul’s Yongsan District, are mourning the victims of the Itaewon crowd crush on Tuesday morning. (Shin So-young/The Hankyoreh)

“There are so many people being crushed here.” (10:21 pm)

“[Screaming] People are being crushed. These people, these people are all going to die. You’ve got to come fast!” (10:22 pm)

“[Screaming] Help us! Stop pushing! Please!” (10:23 pm)

“Stop pushing! Stop pushing! [Weeping] (10:23 pm)

“Hold on a second. [Screaming] Help us!” (10:29 pm)

“[Groaning and screaming] People are dying here!” (10:34 pm)

“This is Itaewon, and we need help. Please! Help us!” (10:39 pm)

South Korea’s emergency hotline, 119, has released transcripts of calls containing urgent screams for help during the Itaewon crowd crush, in which 156 people died. The 100 calls that came in from 10:15 pm on Oct. 29 until 00:56 am on Oct. 30 paint a stark picture of the horror of the scene.

According to the 119 call transcripts released on Tuesday by Jeon Yong-gi, a lawmaker with Korea’s opposition Democratic Party, 87 of the 100 calls received from 10:15 pm to 0:56 am were responded to.

Citizens sent in urgent requests, talking about the “lack of ambulances and manpower,” from the time the Yongsan Fire Station rescue team first arrived at the scene at 10:19 pm until midnight the next day.

Fifty calls were received after the first report of the crush at 10:15 pm, which the National Fire Agency announced as the first report related to the disaster, until 10:43 pm, which was when a level-one emergency response order was issued.

Various callers notified the 119 call center about the severity of the situation.

“I feel like I’m dying. Please come quickly.” “Really, this is killing me. Hurry up and come. I’m going to get crushed to death. It’s a total mess out here.” “I’m getting crushed because there are too many people,”

In the transcripts, calls made after 10:21 pm are mostly full of “screams” and “groans.” Many callers failed to finish their sentences as they were cut off while yelling, “Don’t push” or “Save me.” A caller at 11:13 pm said that “An army wouldn’t be enough to fix this situation. You could call all the police officers and firefighters you want, and it still wouldn’t be enough. There’s no telling how many people are dead.”

Even before 11:36 pm, which was when Kim Kwang-ho, chief of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, first recognized this as a disaster situation, many callers pleaded over the phone for help, saying that “people have fallen down on the street.”

The transcripts also show that even when paramedics had arrived, they had a hard time reaching the scene due to the sheer amount of people. At 11:30 pm, a caller said their friend had collapsed and was coughing up blood.

A 119 staffer answering the call said the caller should go to the fire truck and bring the rescue team with them, explaining that the rescue team couldn’t penetrate the crowd. At 11:31 pm, another caller talked about how “over 50 people have collapsed and are having trouble breathing, and we need help, now, help, the fire truck is here but it can’t get to them.”

The transcripts also show how the 119 hotline center failed to properly recognize how desperate the situation had become. At 10:26 pm, after the Yongsan Fire Station had deployed personnel to the scene, a caller said, “People are stuck here. We can’t get out. This must be what it feels like to be crushed to death.” But the 119 staffer only replied, “Please try to get out of the situation.”

At 10:30 pm, when another caller asked for help, a 119 staffer suggested that the caller “keep a clear head, try not to get pushed around and do your best to evacuate.”

By Um Ji-won, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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