Eleven calls warning of disaster were made to police ahead of Itaewon crush
“I think I’m going to get crushed.” “A big accident is about to take place.” “Please hurry.”
Numerous reports similar to these were made to the 112 police hotline last Saturday in central Seoul’s Itaewon, urgently asking the police for help.
A total of 11 calls warning of the dangerous size of the crowds in Itaewon were made on Saturday, and the Korean word for “crush” was mentioned six times. The urgency was not lost in the other calls, either, with callers saying things like, “I think I’m going to die”
The police only responded by going to the scene for four out of the 11 calls. In the other seven calls, the police only followed up by phone.
On Tuesday, Yoon Hee-keun, commissioner general of the National Police Agency, admitted that there had been warnings of an impending tragedy and conceded that police response may have been “insufficient.”
The first call warning about the Itaewon tragedy was made around 6:34 p.m. Saturday, near the Emart 24 convenience store around the Hamilton Hotel, according to transcripts released by the National Police Agency.
This was 3 hours and 41 minutes before the incident occurred, at around 10:15 p.m.
“It’s a narrow alleyway, but I feel like people will get crushed as people lining up to get in the club, people coming out from Itaewon station and those coming from the alleyway are all entangled,” the first caller said.
The caller even asked the police to “control the crowd by the entrance.”
Regarding the first call, a spokesperson from the National Police Agency said, “The caller may have been scared by the situation but the call was made from the entrance. The police officer may have thought that the situation was not so dangerous because of the time and place.”
Following the first call, multiple other people started calling to ask for help from the police, saying, “there are so many people that people may get crushed.”
Additional calls were made at 8:09, 8:33, 8:53, 9:00, 9:02, 9:07, 9:10, 9:51, 10:00 and 10:11 p.m.
All 11 calls were made from or around the alleyway in which the crush that took the lives of over 150 people happened.
The call at 9:51 p.m. and the last call were confirmed to have been made from the area of Itaewon-dong 119-7, where the tragedy occurred.
The last caller screamed over the phone, “People are about to get crushed here. Everyone’s in chaos. Aah! It’s the back street of Itaewon. The back street!”
Among the 11 calls, the National Police Agency said police were only dispatched to four calls, made at 6:34, 8:09, 9:00 and 9:02 p.m.
According to police regulation, 112 emergency calls are classified into five levels from Code 0 to Code 4.
Both Code 0 and Code 1 require the police to go to the site as soon as possible.
Of the 11 calls, only the call made at 9 p.m. was classified as Code 0, and seven were categorized as Code 1. However, the police did not go to the site after any of the seven Code 1 calls.
The remaining three were labeled as Code 2, which is less urgent but still requires the police to be dispatched, and the police went to the site.
Regarding the police response on Saturday, Yoon Hee-keun said an independent investigation team within the National Police Agency will review the bungled police response.
On Tuesday, the National Police Agency launched an investigation into the Yongsan Police Precinct.
“In order to clearly uncover the truth and determine responsibility, we will conduct an intensive investigation into all areas in a swift and thorough manner,” said Yoon. “I will do my best to prevent such a tragic incident from happening again in the future.”
President Yoon Suk-yeol was also reported to have been enraged after hearing reports that the police did not take sufficient action after having received 11 calls, according to a spokesperson for the presidential office.
The spokesperson said Yoon instructed the situation to be dealt with “thoroughly, without a trace of doubt and dealt with strictly in accordance with the law and principle.”
The death toll from the Itaewon crowd crush is 156, including 26 foreigners, according to the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters, as of Wednesday morning.
Twenty-two people are in critical condition.
BY WI MUN-HEE, KIM NAM-YOUNG, HYUN IL-HOON, CHO JUNG-WOO [email@example.com]