South Korean police chief apologizes for failure to respond to emergency calls

Shoes are lined up at a gym in Seoul on Tuesday.

SEOUL — The head of South Korea’s police agency has apologized for the police’s failure to respond adequately to 11 emergency calls placed before the fatal crowd surge in the Itaewon district of Seoul.

Police officers went to the scene in response to only four of the 11 calls, it has been learned.

“Though we received many calls that alerted us to the serious situation at the scene just before the accident occurred, the on-site response to these calls was insufficient,” Yoon Hee-keun, the commissioner general of South Korea’s National Police Agency, said during a press conference on Tuesday.

Yoon said a special independent organization would be set up “to uncover the truth transparently and rigorously.”

According to the police agency’s report to the National Assembly and local media reports, the first of the 11 calls was made nearly four hours before the accident, which occurred at around 10:15 p.m.

“I’m going to be crushed to death. Please control [the crowd],” the first caller said, referring to the slope where the accident occurred.

Police officers went to the scene but left after deciding that the congestion at the scene had eased.

Other calls followed, urging that measures be taken to get pedestrians to walk in only one direction. The 11th and final call came in just four minutes before the fatal crush.

“I’m going to be crushed to death. I’m in trouble,” the caller said, after which two screams were heard.

Criticism of the police’s response is growing, and the police have assigned 15 inspectors to conduct an internal investigation. According to the South Korean presidential office, President Yoon Suk-yeol was enraged by the report on the police’s mishandling of the emergency calls and demanded a probe.

The incident occurred when many people who had gathered for Halloween in the Itaewon area fell over in a narrow alley. A total of 156 people were killed, including two Japanese women.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Many flowers are seen Wednesday morning near the site of a fatal crush that occurred in the Itaewon district of Seoul.