Crowd crushes: When celebration turns into horror | Inquirer News

Crowd crushes: When celebration turns into horror

By: - Content Researcher Writer / @inquirerdotnet
/ 04:09 PM November 04, 2022
Crowd crushes: When celebration turns into horror Itaewon

Police stand guard at the cordoned scene two days after a deadly Halloween crush in the district of Itaewon in Seoul on October 31, 2022. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP)

MANILA, Philippines—Last Oct. 29, a Halloween celebration in one of the nightlife districts of Seoul, South Korea turned into a real horror show as 154 people died in what was described as the worst-ever crowd crush in recent memory.

This, as 100,000 people—mostly in their teens and 20s—packed Itaewon’s narrow and sloping streets for the first Halloween celebration since COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.


But the celebration itself became real horror when chaos raged at 10 p.m., killing 154 people, including six young students, who died after being trapped in the heavily crowded alley at the heart of the disaster.

READ: South Korea’s deadly Halloween crush was avoidable, experts say

Looking back, a tragedy of this kind also happened in the Philippines 16 years ago—Feb. 4, 2006—when over 30,000 people broke into the PhilSports Arena in Pasig City for the first year anniversary celebration of Wowowee, a TV game show.


But like in Itaewon, the celebration that would have made people happy ended up in a tragedy that killed 73 people, mostly poor who were hoping to receive cash and gift items that were to be given away.

According to the World Socialist Web Site then, most of the victims of the Wowowee stampede were elderly women who were crushed against a steel gate on the stadium’s sloped entrance. One child was killed.

Deadly crowd crush

GRAPHIC: Ed Lustan

To recall, for days leading up to the tragic event, an immense crowd had already gathered outside PhilSports Arena, but the stampede happened when the people at the back rushed toward the gates, thinking they were already open.

Crowd crush vs. stampede

According to the website, “a crowd crush is comparable to a stampede in that both are dangerous scenarios involving large groups of people,” however, “they are different in the way the danger ensues.”

RELATED STORY: South Korea Halloween crush victims’ belongings fill quiet lost-and-found center

“A stampede implies there’s space to run, while a crowd crush means there’s little to no room to move or even breathe,” it said on Wednesday (Nov. 2).

Michael Molloy, vice dean of the Faculty of Sports and Exercise Medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, told that in most of these crowd crush scenarios, “it’s a very, very slow movement that causes a problem.”

He explained that in a crowd crush, people might start to fall over and get trampled by the crowd, or run out of oxygen because they have no room to breathe, saying that the severity of a crowd crush can depend on these:


  • Size of the crowd
  • Space
  • Level of panic
  • Physical, health conditions of the people

It was stressed, however, that the word stampede, which is often used to describe crowd behavior, is wrong, with Prof. Edwin Galea, a crowd behavior expert at the University of Greenwich saying that using it is “pure ignorance and laziness.”

“Stampede is not only an incorrect term, it is a loaded word as it apportions blame to the victims for behaving in an irrational, self-destructive, unthinking and uncaring manner,” he told The Guardian.

“It gives the impression that it was a mindless crowd only caring about themselves, and they were prepared to crush people,” he said.

How does a crowd crush start?

It was stressed by experts that in most crowd crushes, people die of suffocation, and authorities in Seoul initially said that many victims suffered from cardiac arrest, which is the main cause of death in such circumstances.

As explained to the Guardian by crowd safety expert G Keith Still, moving crowds with a density of up to four people per square meter are safe as they still have enough room to make decisions and move based on what they need to do.

Crowd simulation

Crowd simulation

SIMULATION G Keith Still; GRAPHIC Ed Lustan, Kurt Dela Peña

However, when the density is higher—at about six to 10 people per square meter—bodies are already packed together so tightly that they can no longer move to where they need to go.

Still stressed in the website, five people per square meter should be the “upper” limit for standing or viewing spaces.

The website stated that crowd crushes usually happen in places where too many people are crowded in one place—the gates of a venue, or even in venues where people stand to watch a show or event.

It stressed that deadly crowd crushes usually have two key components—dense crowd and catalyst, or something that causes a crowd to shift or move.

RELATED STORY: South Korea vows tough action, moving to quell anger over Halloween crush

“Sudden rain, more people flowing into an already crowded area, or even a move forward to a stage when a performance starts can all cause a deadly surge. A commotion like a fight or a weapon in a crowd can have the same effect,” it said.

What to do in case of a crowd crush?

As stated by The Conversation, which is a network of “not-for-profit” media outlets, there has been a steady rise in crowd crushes since the 1990s, with an average of 380 people dying in such events every year.

Keeping Yourself Safe

GRAPHIC: Ed Lustan

Because of this, the website stressed the need to keep these safety tips in mind, especially when immersing in large crowds:

Once you arrive at the event venue, take these steps to stay safe in a crowd:

  • Don’t be the first to rush in when the gates open.
  • As you enter, take note of all the exits.
  • Pay attention to where first aid centers and security are stationed.
  • Stay away from barricades or fences near the main stage. This is where crowd pressure tends to surge.
  • Stand on even, level ground.
  • Keep an eye out for bottles, cans, and other trash you could trip on.
  • When you’re in a moving crowd, try to walk at the same speed as the rest of the crowd.
  • When going up stairs, hills, or an escalator, hold railings for support if they’re available.
  • Don’t climb to event equipment or structures because a collapse could trigger panic.
  • Pay attention to the crowd’s behavior and dynamics throughout the event.
  • If you fall in a moving crowd, get up quickly or ask for help immediately.
  • Should you get stuck in a surge, keep your feet moving at all times.

But if you are already stuck in a crowd crush, take note of these:

  • Fold your arms toward your body like a boxer to keep yourself steady and safe from being pulled or caught.
  • Try to keep some breathing space around your face.
  • Keep your feet firmly on the ground.
  • Keep moving in the direction of the crowd.
  • Try to walk at the same speed as the rest of the crowd.
  • If you lose balance or fall to the ground, get back up on your feet as soon as possible or ask for help. If you’re not able to stand back up, curl your body into a ball and protect your head and neck area.
  • Steer clear from walls, railings, fences, or other solid or barricading objects.
  • Stay calm. Try not to push or pull away from the moving crowd.
  • If you’re able to, edge yourself to the side of the crowd or a place where the crowd is less dense.
  • If there’s a fire or smoke, crouch down low. That’s because smoke rises up and could cut off your oxygen supply in tight crowds and make it harder to breathe.
View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Inquirer (@inquirerdotnet)

RELATED STORY: Korean singer-actor Lee Ji Han among those killed in Itaewon crowd crush

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

Read Next
Don't miss out on the latest news and information.

Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.

TAGS: crowd crush, INQFocus, Itaewon, safety tips, South korea, stampede, Wowowee
For feedback, complaints, or inquiries, contact us.
Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

© Copyright 1997-2023 | All Rights Reserved

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.