An Australian holidaymaker has described watching his travelmate from Sydney being crushed to death in the horrific Halloween stampede that claimed at least 153 lives on the streets of Seoul, South Korea.
Nathan Taverniti said he is now acting as guardian for the body of the dead woman, who was 12 days shy of her 24th birthday.
Two more of his Australian friends in the group of four who went out to enjoy the Halloween celebrations in the central Itaewon district were also caught up in the disaster, with one sill in intensive care.
The horror unfolded on Saturday night when a sea of mostly young people became jammed in a crowd crush believed to have been sparked by revellers flocking to see a local celebrity nearby.
Mr Taverniti said he tried to grab his friend out of the suffocating chaos but was unable to save her.
‘I was there when she said she couldn’t breathe and I grabbed one of my friend’s hands,’ he said in a TikTok post.
‘There was no stampede, it was a slow and agonising crush.’
Nathan Taverniti who was holidaying in Seoul saw his travel companion from Sydney crushed to death in the Halloween disaster on Saturday night
Emergency workers urgently try to extricate those most in need of medical assistance from the crowd on Saturday night
He earlier told a South Korean newspaper that: ‘All I could see was a wall of people … it was impossible (to save her).’
He later saw her taken away on a stretcher but couldn’t find her.
Mr Taverniti said he was making the video after just arriving at his accommodation having located his friend’s body, which he only did with the help of some ‘kind-hearted reporters’ from the American ABC network.
A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson has confirmed an Australian died in the tragedy, which also cost the lives of 18 other foreigners.
‘The Australian Government sends its condolences to the family and others affected by this tragic incident,’ he said.
‘We ask for the family’s privacy to be respected during this difficult time.’
Consular officials were in contact with the deceased woman’s family in Australia and were helping ‘a number of other Australians who were present at the event’.
Mr Taverniti dressed up with four friends from Australia to take part in Seoul’s Halloween celebrations
Mr Taverniti reacts while looking for his friend’s name on the list of missing people at a community service centre after a stampede during Halloween festivities in Seoul, South Korea, October 30, 2022
Olivia Jacovic, a 27-year-old West Australian living in Seoul, told Channel Nine how she and her friends narrowly escaped the deadly crush after taking 40 minutes to get out of the subway stop at the site.
‘It was really hard, I had bruises on my arms from trying to manoeuvre out but we got on the sidelines luckily and we were standing up on this brick wall and we could see above,’ she said.
‘It was just shoulder-to-shoulder, people couldn’t breathe the shorter people were trying to look up in the air to get some air.’
Ms Jacovic said she had to struggle hard to free herself from the surging crowd.
‘I just wanted to get out of there… I don’t care that my clothes were getting ripped, she said.
Mr Taverniti blamed the lack of planning and police preparedness for the disaster.
‘I watched as people filmed and sang and laughed while my friends were dying among with many other people,’ he said.
‘I was there trying to pull people out because there was not enough police officers and nobody was doing anything to make the crowd stop.
‘We were yelling, saying ‘you have to turn around, you have to go back, people are dying’ but nobody was listening.
‘I waited 30 minutes for the police to arrive where I was. It took over an hour for more police to arrive and even longer for emergency services.’
Olivia Jacovic told Channel Nine how she narrowly escaped the crush that claimed the lives of 153 people in Seoul
Those caught in the crush were left shocked, checking their phones to try and contact missing loved ones or hugging one another
He confirmed other reports that CPR was administered by volunteers.
‘There were people lying on the ground getting CPR not by health professionals by random people, whoever could,’ Mr Taverniti said.
‘I am sad. I am devastated by this situation which could have been so easily avoided but nobody would listen.’
Sydney woman Julia Cho, was one of four friends with Mr Taverniti, has also shared her experience on TikTok.
Ms Cho said her sister was in intensive care, while the other friend had lost their life,
She also delivered a damning assessment of police and other services.
The incident on Saturday night led to 140 ambulances being deployed to help treat and evacuate the injured
‘Local authorities were not on standby and left innocent people helpless, despite knowing there was an excessive amount of people in the streets with nowhere to go,’ she said.
‘This happened very early in the night. People were suffocating, toppling over one another and crushed.’
‘The leaders and authorities hold sole responsibility and have failed their people.’
Revelers dressed in Halloween costumes are seen leaving the scene after a crush killed at least 146 people in Seoul
Seoul’s emergency services had been overwhelmed by the fatal crush amongst a 100,000-strong crowd there to attend the city’s 2022 Halloween Festival.
It was first time the festival had been held in full since Covid, with the crush occurring shortly after 10pm local time (8pm EADT).
Officials confirmed that dozens of people went into cardiac arrest and the number of deaths is still expected to rise. An unspecified number remain in a critical condition in hospital.
Photos from the scene showed at least 25 bodies lying on the ground in the streets of Seoul, concealed by yellow blankets. A separate line of bodies covered in blue blankets was also photographed.
As the full scale of the tragedy was still being realised, South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol said on Sunday morning that the deadly stampede ‘should not have happened’.
An exhausted young woman is carried away from the scene to safety after becoming caught up in the night’s events
‘In the centre of Seoul, a tragedy and disaster occurred that should not have happened,’ Yoon said in a national address, vowing to ‘thoroughly investigate’ the incident and ensure it could never happen again.
According to local emergency responders, many of the victims were women in their 20s, and most were teenagers or in their early twenties.
A makeshift morgue was set up in an adjacent building due to the sheer number of fatalities.
Officials added it was believed that people were crushed to death after a large crowd began pushing forward in a narrow alley near Hamilton Hotel, a major party spot in Seoul, upon hearing rumours a celebrity was nearby.
Dozens of people were given CPR on Itaewon’s streets while many others have been taken to nearby hospitals.
One witness described the height of the crush: ‘People were layered on top of others like a tomb. Some were gradually losing their consciousness while some looked dead by that point.’
Photographs and videos on social media show horrific scenes of panic in the aftermath of the crush, and people’s desperate efforts to escape from the building tragedy.
Parts of costumes were scattered around the scene of the deadly crush hours after it occurred, as police began their investigation into the cause
One particularly distressing video showed dozens of people struggling to breathe and stay on their feet in the crowd as rescue workers attempted to extricate those most in need of medical assistance from the throng.
More than 1,700 emergency workers were deployed from across South Korea to respond to one of the deadliest crowd crushes in recent history.
More footage overlooking the street showed dozens of emergency responders working desperately to administer CPR to victims lying on the street.
Hundreds of police officers had been deployed to the area in advance of Saturday night in anticipation of the large crowds, but they were reportedly struggling to keep control in the minutes before the tragedy unfolded.