An investigation into the South Korean capital’s Halloween crush last year, which saw nearly 160 deaths, has revealed that 23 officials need to be prosecuted for allegedly failing to take safety precautions.
About half of them are law enforcement officers.
The probe found that police and officials failed to control the crowds at the thousands of parties on the day of of the tragic in Seoul, on Saturday 29th October.
They were also accused of not returning calls at the hotlines warning of a growing crowd hours before it became deadly in Itaewon’s nightlife district.
Investigators claimed that officials failed to respond when people were pushed over and crushed by partygoers in an alley near Hamilton Hotel at 10 p.m.
The investigators also stated that they did not manage to control the scene effectively and allow rescue teams to reach injured patients in time.
The disaster claimed the lives of 158 people and left 196 others with serious injuries.
Police had already assigned 137 officers to Itaewon for the crush despite anticipating more than 100,000 people on weekends.
Experts say that these officers were focused on drug use and violent crime surveillance, leaving little for pedestrian safety.
Son Je-han, the head of the special investigation by the National Police Agency into the incident, stated that the case would now be sent to the prosecutors.
Mr Son said that the officials were responsible for the high number casualties due to their inaccurate judgment of the situation, slow information distribution, poor cooperation between institutions, and delayed rescue operations.
Park Hee-young (the mayor of Seoul’s Yongsan District) and Lee Im-jae (the former chief of the district’s police force), were among those arrested. Investigators believe they should be tried.
Lee was also accused of falsifying an officer report in order to hide his late arrival at the scene.
Two other officers were also arrested for allegedly trying to destroy computer files and other evidence related to the disaster.
Opposition politicians and the families of victims have demanded that more high-profile individuals be investigated, such as Lee Sang-min (interior and safety minister) and Yoon Heekeun (National Police Agency commissioner general). There have been calls for them to resign.
The probes will continue into the Interior and Safety Ministry and the National Police agency. Investigators claim it is difficult to determine their direct responsibility.
What’s the deal?
Experts have called it a “manmade catastrophe” by calling the crushing in Itaewon.
On the night of the tragedy, the crowd density was so high that approximately nine to eleven people occupied the same space (roughly a square metre) at the same moment.
Because the area was densely populated, paramedics had difficulty reaching the scene.
The sheer number of casualties meant that those who were able to reach the scene could not handle it. They asked pedestrians for help with CPR.
The majority of deaths were due to brain damage or suffocation.
Experts believe that the incident could have been avoided if there had been more monitoring of bottlenecks, including enforcing one way walk lanes, blocking narrow paths, and temporarily closing Itaewon subway station to stop large numbers of people from moving in the same direction.