Social media is hailing a South Korean policeman after a video showed him desperately struggling to help people amid the deadly Halloween crowd crush that took place last Saturday in the streets of Seoul.
At least 156 people were killed after tens of thousands of revellers, many of them young, had crowded into the narrow streets and alleyways of Itaewon district for the first virtually unrestricted Halloween festivities in three years since the onset of the Covid pandemic.
An uncontrolled surge of people into one narrow alleyway had turned into a deadly crush.
Disturbing footage showing emergency rescue officials and citizens providing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to unconscious victims quickly went viral on social media even before the nature and the scale of the disaster became known.
In a video uploaded by Yonhap News Agency titled ‘Desperate Korean Police at Itaewon disaster’, sergeant Kim Baek-gyeom can be seen directing a sea of people amid the chaos.
“People are dying! Everyone come this way, people are dying,” he can be heard saying in a desperate appeal to people in the video. “Please cooperate”.
At one point in the roughly over four-minute video, he could be seen climbing up the terrace of a pub and attempt to manage the crowd gathered for the Halloween party.
The video has collected at least three million views and over 10 thousand comments.
According to the news agency, the sergeant was responding to another report in the nearby area when he saw the crowd crush and immediately reached the spot with his colleagues to manage the situation.
“We had received a report of an altercation in the area, so I arrived at the scene between 10.10pm and 10.15pm," he told BBC News.
“I made my way through the crowd and witnessed the crowd crush,” he told Yonhap. “The people were already taking initiatives, rescuing those who were crushed.”
Explaining that he was trying to redirect the crowd to reduce crowd density from the alley to make space for rescue work, he said he jumped to the terrace of the pub “to control people’s movement”.
He pointed out that officials didn’t bring megaphones to disperse the crowd as they had stumbled on it while responding to another incident, and would have lost crucial time if they had gone back to their precinct to fetch it.
He added that people also volunteered to help him. “They were actively helping to transport the patients by making groups of four.”
The officer resents the incident and wonders if the outcome would have been different had he gone back to get the megaphone. “I feel ashamed and I only feel sorry to the families,” he could be heard saying in the interview as he breaks down crying.
Social media users, however, heaped praise on him for his efforts.
“I hope you feel better soon,” commented a user under the YouTube video. “You really did your best in that tragic situation so don’t blame yourself. Unknowingly more people got saved because of you guiding them to the right wayï¸. My prayers is for you to heal and to live a happy and guilt free life. Salute to you officer,” wrote a user.
“Oh I am so glad to know this officer’s name. I watched a lot of the videos and he was everywhere, clearly doing 200 [per cent]. I admire him,” wrote another. “It’s such a pity he feels guilt because he should not. No fault whatsoever lies with him. I’m sending prayers and good wishes to him. I hope if I ever end up in a moment of crisis an officer like him is nearby,” commented another.
The mother of a victim also contacted the sergeant on Thursday to convey her gratitude for his actions, reported the BBC.
“I was too sorry to say thank you to her,” he told the broadcaster.
“I couldn’t do my job that night. If I can somehow meet the bereaved family members and express my apologies and talk to them, I would like to do that.”