Police squad first arrives at Itaewon crowd scene about 85 minutes later

SEOUL, Nov. 6 (Yonhap — A police squad first arrived at the scene of the Halloween crowd crush in Seoul nearly 85 minutes after the incident erupted, police data showed Sunday.

A total of five police squads affiliated with the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency (SMPA) were mobilized on the day of the crowd crush in Seoul’s Itaewon district that killed at least 156 people, mostly those in their 20s, according to the data submitted by the SMPA to Rep. Lee Tae-won of the main opposition Democratic Party.

The No. 11 police squad first arrived at the scene at 11:40 p.m. on Oct. 29 under the instruction of Lee Im-Jae, a former chief of the Yongsan Police Station that includes the Itaewon neighborhood. The first call to the police’s 112 emergency hotline was made around 10:15 p.m.

Four other squads arrived at the scene one by one, starting from 11:50 p.m. on Oct. 29 to 1:14 a.m. on Oct. 30, according to the SMPA data.

Lee — temporarily suspended from his post — was also found to have arrived at the Itaewon police substation at 11:05 p.m., some 50 minutes after the crush happened.

Also, a total of eight units of conscripted policemen were ordered to be dispatched to the scene at 12:11 a.m. on Oct. 30, the data showed. The role of conscripted policemen is to support police officers in various tasks such as patrol.

The first unit arrived at the scene at 12:50 a.m. on Oct. 30, followed by seven others up until 1:12 a.m., it said.

Kim Kwang-ho, chief of the SMPA, was also belatedly briefed by the Yongsan police chief at 11:36 p.m. on Oct. 29, leaving the top police command in the dark for more than an hour, the data showed.

An independent team of investigators announced that Lee had belatedly arrived at the police substation after he had insisted on moving by his car despite a heavy traffic jam around the Itaewon area at the time.

After leaving a restaurant where he had been having dinner with officers from his office, Lee had arrived at Noksapyeong Station at around 10 p.m. The station is located just 10 minutes by foot from the scene.

However, Lee’s car detoured from the subway station to find other ways, and he was only able to arrive at a street near the police substation around between 10:55 p.m. and 11:01 p.m.

The team also said it is investigating the alleged deletion after the Oct. 29 crush of an internal report by Yongsan Police Station concerning possible safety-related incidents during the Halloween period.

The report, written by the station’s intelligence division, was never delivered to top police command, and the deletion could suggest the station attempted to cover up its inaction.
Meanwhile, a separate report released by Rep. Cheon Jun-ho of the main opposition, said the fire authorities received an emergency call to their 119 hotline center from Itaewon at 10:12 p.m. on the day. The caller said it was hard to breathe but hung up shortly in a murmur.

The timing of that call is three minutes earlier than the fire authorities’ previous announcement that the 119 center had received its first call for help from Itaewon at 10:15 p.m.

The fire department said the call at 10:12 p.m. was too short and noisy to get the exact situation from the caller and detailed urgent calls were reported from 10:15 p.m.

The report said the Seoul Emergency Operation Center, which handles 119 emergency calls, ordered the Yongsan Fire Station to send a rescue team at 10:17 p.m. and asked the police for cooperation a minute later.

The center reported the incident to a situation room of the Seoul municipal government around 10:28 p.m. and to that of the Ministry of the Interior and Safety at 10:48 p.m.

Then, it stepped up its crisis response level by three notches, one each at 10:43 p.m., 11:13 p.m. and 11:50 p.m.

The incident was reported to the presidential office at 10:53 p.m., according to the report.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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