Seoul’s Halloween Crush: A Timeline of Events

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Seoul’s nightlife district of Itaewon goes quiet following the deadly Halloween Crowd crush on Oct. 29, killing 156 people and injuring another 140. 

As many as 100,000 people congregated in Itaewon’s narrow, sloping streets to celebrate in elaborate costumes as they hopped around from bar to bar and club to club. Itaewon is no stranger to crowds of massive scale, however the growing crowds locked partygoers in place and became suffocating fast. 

According to police emergency logs, multiple calls were made as early as four hours before tragedy ensued. Witnesses reported people falling like dominos as they lost their footing on the slopes, piling up on each other and trapping people under the crowd. Some began scaling the buildings as the only way out soon became up. 

From the subway station, the nightlife strip can be accessed by an alleyway that measures less than 13 feet wide. Itaewon was long known as an area of buzz and western culture even when South Korea was still a postwar, developing nation. It was built long before Seoul had city planning. 

Around 4 p.m., crowds had become increasingly big while the alleyways became completely blocked off around 5 p.m. due to the amount of people packed into the narrow streets. The chaos ensued after police received the first emergency call at 6:34 p.m. pleading for crowd control as people continued arriving in the area. 

8 p.m.

Just after 8 p.m., police received a second emergency call saying that people were getting hurt as they were being pushed and falling. More calls began trickling in with similar warnings as partygoers were already sustaining injuries due to crowd density. 

9 p.m.

By 9:30 p.m., all exit ways were blocked as people kept arriving from all directions of the alleyways. 

10 p.m.

First responders were dispatched between 10:15 and 10:27 p.m. as the Yongsan Fire Station received more than five reports of a crush accident as people at the top of the sloping alleyway next to Hamilton Hotel began falling over.  

11 p.m.

At 11:13 p.m., a second-stage order was issued. Fire authorities reported that dozens of people were receiving medical attention by 11:46 p.m. after suffering from cardiac arrest. A third-stage order was issued at 11:50 p.m. followed by an emergency alert from the Seoul metropolitan government to the residents of the Itaewon area requesting vehicles to turn away due to an emergency accident. 

12 a.m.

President Yoon Suk Yeol dispatched a disaster medical assistance team to Itaewon, ordering hospitals to prepare emergency beds following the first report made by the country’s National Police Agency around 12:14 a.m. As first responders rushed the wounded onto stretchers and ambulances, photos showing a line of blue body bags on the street began emerging around 12:30 a.m. Emergency workers were unable to salvage everyone out of the crush until well past midnight. 

1 a.m.

At 1 a.m., police ordered businesses in the area to close as they released the first death toll of 59. Bodies were frantically transferred to mortuaries while the injured were taken to nearby hospitals. It was clear at this point that the scale of the tragedy was large and expected to grow. President Yoon banned anyone expect officials and medical workers from entering the area around 2 a.m. while extra subway cars and buses were sent to Itaewon station for trapped partygoers until 5 a.m. 

As people slowly succumbed to their injuries, the death toll reached 156 early Sunday morning. Authorities have since apologized and promised to improve crowd control measures in the future as there were no protocols in place for managing massive crowds without an organizer. The country continues to mourn the loss of so many young lives through vigils and reform. 


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