S'porean survivor of Itaewon crowd crush: 'Paramedics tried their best for those who looked like they stood a chance'

As she is certified to perform CPR, she volunteered to help those hurt in the crowd crush. What she didn't expect was how bad the situation was.

Lee Wei Lin | October 30, 2022, 06:42 PM

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[Editor's note, Oct. 30 8:30pm: According to crowd safety expert G. Keith Still, who spoke to The Washington Post, what happened in Itaewon can be described as a crowd crush or surge.

It happens when people are packed together in a confined space and movement causes the crowd to fall over.

A stampede implies that people had place to run, which was not the case in Itaewon.

This article has been updated with the correct term.]

A Singaporean survivor of the deadly crowd crush in Itaewon, Seoul, has given her account of what happened on Oct. 29, 2022.

Before the crowd crush

Alice (not her real name), who is in her late 20s, told Mothership that there were "a lot of people" in Itaewon at about 8:30pm, but she and her two friends were able to navigate the narrow lanes without much difficulty.

While they were briefly stuck at alley intersections from time to time, it was "nowhere near crushing" as people gave way to one another.

What one lane at Itaewon looked like at 8:34pm. Photo by Alice

Her companions left as the crowd grew, but Alice stayed on as another friend, Zoey (not her real name), arrived later and wanted to soak in the festivities together.

The crowd crush

Just before the crowd crush began, Alice and Zoey found themselves in a dangerous situation.

Screenshot from Naver maps

Those trying to enter the main lane where the festivities were happening (circled in the screenshot above) from the east and west were unaware of what things were like in the thick of the crowd.

Alice said:

"My guess is that people wanted to get [to most of the activities were happening] and decided to shove their way in. When people started to push from both ends, those in the crowd got pushed against each other.

We were lifted off the ground by sheer force and moved along with the crowd. We had nowhere to go and no way to escape."

She, like many others, was carried into the smaller lanes leading to Itaewon station.

Therein lied another problem -- the smaller lanes were just so narrow that many were unable to find their footing. People started falling, and those around them followed suit, like dominoes.

According to Yonhap News, the lane where the crowd crush occurred is estimated to be four metres wide.

"The force from all the pushing won't allow you to stop and help the fallen up," Alice continued. "It felt like something out of a zombie apocalypse because I saw people stacked on top of another, and those at the bottom layers likely suffocated and died."

Around her, she could hear voices shouting for others to stop pushing. There were also wordless screams.

The Singaporean considers herself lucky as the crowd carried her and Zoey into the entrance of a club.

Screenshot from Naver maps street view

They helped those who had fallen around them up, and together, they were let into the club, located underground, by the bouncer.

Meanwhile, a Japanese restaurant located just next to the club refused to open their doors to let anyone in, Alice revealed.

"People were pounding on their doors and those inside just stared back."

The aftermath

Without knowing the severity of what was happening above them, Alice and Zoey sat in the club recovering from what had happened.

They belatedly realised that they had lost their footwear -- Alice only had one shoe on, while Zoey was barefoot.

As Zoey's feet were also bruised, the club staff gave her ice for the injury.

Some time later, the lights came on as a staff member explained how bad the situation on the ground was.

Alice could not recall how much time had passed.

Staff then asked for male volunteers to aid in carrying the injured into the club, along for those who are trained to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to render assistance.

Alice, who is certified to perform CPR, volunteered.

What she didn't expect was to witness a scene beyond any training she's received.

"Their faces had turned blue. Their eyes were rolled back and mouths wide open," she recalled. "Some of them were desperately gasping for air. Paramedics tried their best for those who looked like they stood a chance. Many others were laid along the sides of the alley just waiting to be moved."

As all the casualties were already individually attended to, Alice was told that her assistance would not be needed.

Those who weren't being attended to had blue cloths covering them.

As she took in the devastation around her, she saw a man standing in the middle of the alley looking dazed, and asked him if he needed help.

Little did she expect the man to respond: "I'm a doctor."

Alice shared, "I can't imagine what he went through to be that outwardly affected."

Going home

With all the first responders on the ground hurrying those unharmed out of the area, Alice and Zoey decided to head home.

As they walked along the alley, Alice found the other side of her sneakers. Zoey found one side of her flats, and picked up another lone shoe for her other foot.

Zoey went home with two different shoes. Photo by Zoey

Strewn on the ground were footwear, phones and other personal belongings.

"I know I'm f***ing lucky to get away unscathed," Alice said. "We are lucky to be alive."

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Top photo from Alice