ROK police launch full-scale probe into Seoul crush

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The alley where a crowd surge occurred in the Itaewon area of Seoul on Monday afternoon

SEOUL — The South Korean police set up a 475-person investigative headquarters on Monday to collect security camera footage and eyewitness testimony and determine the cause of Saturday’s crowd surge, which killed 156 people in Seoul’s popular Itaewon neighborhood.

The police conducted an inspection on Monday afternoon with the National Forensic Service at the site of the incident, a gently sloping alley 3.2 meters wide and 40 meters long. They measured the alley and took photographs of the shops lining the street to be able to recreate three-dimensionally the conditions that led to the incident. They are also checking security camera footage, collecting messages posted on social media from the site and interviewing witnesses.

The police are prioritizing analysis of the incident over other cases, they said.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The incident occurred in an alley connecting a main road and another street at slightly higher elevation. People from the jam-packed street flowed into the already crowded alley, where some apparently fell, causing those around them to also fall over.

More than 100,000 people reportedly gathered in the Itaewon area on the day of the accident, and more than 1,000 people are said to have been in the alley.

South Korean daily papers including The Munhwa Ilbo quoted police sources as saying more than 300 people were piled on top of one another in an area only some 18 square meters in size around the midpoint of the alley, where casualties were most concentrated. In that spot, people were piled six to seven layers deep, they reported.

Local media quoted an eyewitness as saying that people under intense pressure from the crowd lost consciousness while still standing.

One focus of the upcoming investigation will be whether anyone intentionally pushed anyone else.

In footage of the site released online, several voices can be heard shouting “Push, push,” and “Go back, go back.” A number of eyewitnesses and people who were in the alley at the time have also said there were people pushing.

However, it could be difficult to identify those shouting in any footage because much of the alley wasn’t lit by streetlights.