'I felt like being in a compressor': Vietnamese survivor of Seoul Halloween crush

By Hoang Nguyen, Ngoc AnhOctober 31, 2022 | 05:50 am PT
'I felt like being in a compressor': Vietnamese survivor of Seoul Halloween crush
Rescue teams and firefighters work at the scene where people were killed and injured in a crush during Halloween festivities in Seoul, South Korea, October 30, 2022. Photo by Reuters
Vuong Thanh Trung felt like he was crushed by a rock. His height helped him breathe and save his life as a stampede around him turned deadly for many people.

Trung, 31, is one of the survivors of the fatal Halloween stampede in Itaewon, Seoul, South Korea last Saturday, Vietnam time. At least 153 people died in the stampede as people rushed into a narrow alleyway in the packed nightlife area of Itaewon.

VnExpress spoke to Trung about his experience.

How do you feel now?

"I barely slept that night. When I read the news in the morning, I cried because so many people died. I was really fortunate to make it out of there alive.

That was my third Halloween in South Korea. People usually go there (Itaewon) to celebrate Halloween every year. It’s a favorite spot for tourists and gets crowded during Halloween, but people were still able to move around in previous years.

I arrived at the Itaewon station 9:20 p.m. The station is located near a area that has many bars and clubs, similar to Bui Vien Street in HCMC. I knew that it would be packed at this time but didn’t expect it be so extremely crowded.

As I was walking away from the narrow alleyway, there was a big crowd that suddenly rushed in the opposite direction and I was stuck in it. I tried to get out but more and more people kept appearing and pushing. I had to choice but to go with the crowd toward the alleyway.

After 2 minutes, I couldn't move anymore. Fifteen minutes later, the crowd kept pushing and I was pressed against the wall. I was still able to breathe for 20 minutes, but as the pressure increased, it became very difficult.

I felt like I was being crushed under a big rock or an elephant. My arms and legs were numb. There was no space to move. My body leaned at a 40 degrees angle or so since it was a steep alleyway. People at the front fell and were stacked upon each other, but the people at the back didn’t know his and kept pushing.

I heard people scream "help me" and "stop pushing". I was wondering why people at the back kept pushing towards the alleyway instead of breaking into other directions because it was dreadful out front.

Just as I thought I would not be able to survive for another 30 minutes, the police arrived and tried to pull the people at the front out, but they couldn’t. Many people had already lost their footing on the slope and were stacked on top of each other.

After about 10 minutes, the police decided to break the crowd from the back. People couldn't stand on their own feet so the officers had to pull them out one by one.

I was 2-3 meters away from the front. The narrow and steep alleyway was just 15 meters long. Many people at the front died of suffocation. When I escaped, I saw many people crying and telling others not to go in. The police were calling for ambulances.

I went home after that. This is something that I will never forget for the rest of my life.

You said that the alleyway was really narrow and only 15-m long. Then, how did so many people rush in there?

I think there were around 400-500 people in that alley. I couldn’t even turn my head around, but I saw some people closing their eyes. Maybe they were too tired. They saw the exit but got stuck and couldn’t do anything about it.

The police also couldn’t do anything about it. On the two sides of the alleyway were walls. It was steep so people lost their footing easily, especially when they were pushed and shoved.

I read in the news and some people said later that said a celebrity came to a bar near there, so people rushed into the alley.

What were your feelings as the chaos unfolded around you?

My height is 1.79 m. I stood on a step that 50 cm wide and 1 m long. Those who didn't stand on that step fell forward. I was standing higher and pressed against the wall so luckily I didn’t fall. I definitely wouldn't have survived if I’d fallen.

There were some women who couldn't find space to breathe because the were only around 1.6 m tall. I’m not very tall compared to others but I still had a bit of room for air, although I was exhausted.

The crowd pushed forward every 1-2 minutes and I felt like my body was in a compressor, that my bones could be crushed anytime. If the situation had continued for another hour I think my bones would have shattered.

I couldn’t do anything but pray. The screams of people also scared me. I have been to crowded places many times, but I have never felt so much fear before, because I couldn’t breathe. I would have paid any amount of money to get out of there. If the police had arrived late, I might not have survived for long.

How did you escape the crowd when the police arrived?

When I saw the police, I knew that I would be saved because they would find a way. It was about 20 minutes later that I managed to escape. They had to pull people out from the back since it was impossible to do so from the front. When I got out, I saw many women passed out and the police were performing first aid.

I tried to get out of there as fast as possible. After I calmed down a bit, I felt very lucky and also extremely tired. I sat on the sidewalk for a few minutes to catch my breath.

I think I won’t go there again for the rest of my life.

The reason I didn’t get panic in there is because I didn’t know that many people had died. If I knew, I would have been frightened out of my wits.

You didn’t know so many people had died until after you escaped. What did you feel when you found out?

When I got home and I watched the videos of the incident online, I couldn't hold back my tears.... Those people didn't deserve that. Most of them were young people in their 20s and 30s.

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