A 23-year-old Australian visiting South Korea’s capital Seoul has spoken out about the crowd crush on Saturday night that left one Australian, who they said was their friend, and at least 152 others dead.
Nathan Taverniti told Yonhap News Agency two of his friends were in a critical condition and the other had died after they were among about 100,000 people, aged mostly in their 20s and 30s, trapped and crushed when a huge Halloween street party surged into a narrow alleyway.
Officials said the crowd crush began in Seoul at 10.22pm and that many of the victims were trampled.
Taverniti said he searched for his friend’s body for hours and that she would have turned 24 this week.
“I was there when she said she couldn’t breathe and I grabbed one of my friends’ hands,” Taverniti said in a TikTok video now hidden from the public.
Taverniti said descriptions of the crowd crush as a “stampede” were wrong and that the fault sat with authorities, not the attendees.
“It was a slow, agonising crush. This crush was not caused by drunk people. It was lack of planning [by the] police force and emergency services,” he said.
“And nobody was willing to help. I watched as people filmed and sang and laughed while my friends were dying, along with many other people.
“I was there trying to pull people out because there was not enough police officers and nobody was doing anything to make the crowd stop.
“We were yelling, we were saying ‘you have to go back, you have to turn around, people are dying’, but nobody was listening.”
Witnesses said it was practically impossible for emergency workers and ambulances to access the street or get into the crowd in time to help people who had been crushed.
“There were people lying on the ground getting CPR, not by health professionals, by random people, whoever could,” Taverniti said.”I am sad. I am devastated by the situation which could have so easily been avoided, but nobody would listen.”
It was the biggest gathering in Seoul since the start of the pandemic and the first Halloween event in three years, but ended as one of the country’s deadliest disasters in years.
South Korean officials said the death toll could continue to rise and the Department of Foreign Affairs said a number of other Australians attended the event and may have been injured.