Seoul police chief admits to ‘heavy responsibility’ for failing to stop deadly crowd crush

South Korea’s police chief has admitted to a “heavy responsibility” for failing to contain the deadly crush that left 156 Halloween party-goers dead in South Korea as the incident led to widespread public outrage.

Yoon Hee-keun, the head of the National Police Agency, acknowledged that crowd control at Seoul’s Itaewon district was “inadequate”, noting police received multiple emergency calls before the disaster, he said at a press conference on Tuesday.

“I wish for a quick recovery of those who were injured and feel heavy responsibility for the people who got a huge shock,” Mr Yoon said.

“In order to clearly uncover the truth and determine responsibility, we will conduct an intensive inspection and investigation into all areas in a swift and thorough manner,” he added.

Mr Yoon said there were “multiple 112 emergency reports” that showed the severity of the situation. The 112 number is the country’s emergency number.

The death toll from the stampede, which took place on Saturday, climbed to 156. At least 151 are injured, 29 of whom were in serious condition.

There were around 137 officers to control the crowd of 100,000 that had gathered on the streets, reported Reuters.

The South Korean leadership is scrambling to control public anger as the government faces growing public scrutiny over whether the crowd surge in Itaewon, a popular nightlife neighbourhood, could have been prevented and who should take responsibility for the country’s worst disaster in years.

Shoes are seen among a huge collection items found in Itaewon following South Korea’s deadliest crowd surge (AP)
Shoes are seen among a huge collection items found in Itaewon following South Korea’s deadliest crowd surge (AP)

In a tearful apology, Seoul mayor Oh Se-hoon said the administration will work and use all available administrative resources “until every citizen can return to their normal lives”.

Interior minister Lee Sang-min, who fuelled public anger by saying more police and firefighters would not have prevented the disaster, apologised on Tuesday and vowed a thorough investigation to prevent similar mishaps.

“As the minister overseeing the safety of the public, I express sincere apologies over the incident,” Mr Lee said, in a parliamentary session televised live.

He said the government has “limitless responsibility over the safety of our people”.

South Korea’s president Yoon Suk-yeol agreed that crowd management needed to improve.

South Korea's National Police Agency Commissioner Yoon Hee-keun speaks during a press conference on the deadly Halloween crowd surge (YONHAP/AFP via Getty Images)
South Korea's National Police Agency Commissioner Yoon Hee-keun speaks during a press conference on the deadly Halloween crowd surge (YONHAP/AFP via Getty Images)

“We should come up with concrete safety measures to manage crowds, not only on these streets where this massive disaster took place but at other places like stadiums and concert venues where large crowds gather,” he said.

A week of national mourning has been declared by the president who said South Korea has had too many safety disasters.

“We should come up with concrete safety measures to manage crowds, not only on these streets where this massive disaster took place but at other places like stadiums and concert venues where large crowds gather,” he said at a cabinet meeting.

Days after the disaster, hundreds of abandoned shoes were laid out in neat rows at a badminton court in Seoul as a grim depiction of the lives claimed by the stampede.

The shoes were part of 1.5 tonnes of personal objects left by victims and survivors of the tragedy. They have been assembled by police for owners or family members of the victims to retrieve them.