Australian confirmed dead in stampede as Seoul families search for missing

An Australian has died in a stampede in the South Korean capital that has left more than 150 people dead after a crowd became unruly.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed it had been notified of the Australian’s death in Seoul on Saturday night, local time.

A spokesman said consular officials were providing assistance to the deceased’s family.

They are also working to help other Australians present at the event.

“The Australian government sends its condolences to the family and others affected by this tragic incident,” the spokesman said.

The disaster happened as a huge crowd celebrating Halloween on Saturday night surged into an alley in a nightclub area, which is popular among young people, expatriates and travellers, in Seoul.

“Our sincere condolences for all affected by this terrible tragedy,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese tweeted on Sunday before news broke of the Australian’s death.

Also earlier on Sunday, Ambassador to the Republic of Korea Catherine Raper joined Mr Albanese in conveying Australia’s condolences to the South Korean government, describing the incident as “tragic”.

“We ask all Australians in Seoul to check in with friends and family to let them know your whereabouts,” Ms Raper tweeted.

More than 80 others injured

President Yoon Suk-yeol has declared a period of national mourning after the death of 151 people. Photo: AP

More than 80 people were injured, many seriously, in the melee about 10.30pm in Seoul’s Itaewon district.

Choi Sung-beom, head of the Yongsan Fire Station, said many of the victims were women in their twenties, according to Reuters.

Up to 19 foreigners were among the dead, including citizens of China, Iran, Uzbekistan and Norway.

Those killed in Saturday night’s disaster included people from China, Iran, Russia, the United States, Australia, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Austria, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Norway, authorities said.

At least four Chinese nationals were among those killed, Xinhua news agency reported, citing the Chinese embassy in Seoul.

“On behalf of the Chinese government and people, I would like to express deep condolences to the victims and extend sincere condolences to their families and the injured,” President Xi Jinping said in a letter, according to Xinhua.

It was the first Halloween event in Seoul in three years after the country lifted COVID-19 restrictions and social distancing.

Many of the partygoers were wearing masks and Halloween costumes. Some witnesses said the crowd had become increasingly unruly as the night wore on.

National mourning

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has declared a period of national mourning.

The disaster is among the country’s deadliest since a 2014 ferry sinking that killed 304 people, mainly high school students.

Australians concerned about the welfare of loved ones in Seoul can call the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Trade Consular Emergency Centre on 1300 555 135.

Those outside Australia can call +61 2 6261 3305.


US President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden sent their condolences, writing: “We grieve with the people of the Republic of Korea and send our best wishes for a quick recovery to all those who were injured.”

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak tweeted: “All our thoughts are with those currently responding and all South Koreans at this very distressing time.”

“I am devastated by news of the terrible incident in connection with Halloween celebrations in Seoul,” Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt said in a statement.

“My deepest condolences to families and friends who lost their loved ones. My thoughts are with those affected by this tragedy.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted: “I’m thinking of everyone affected by this tragedy, and wishing a fast and full recovery to those who were injured.”

Search for missing

Ju-min Park and Heekyong Yang report that Philomene Aby’s hands shook as she asked workers at a South Korean community centre for any news of her 22-year-old son, missing in the wake of a crowd surge in Seoul that left at least 151 people dead on Saturday.

Her son, Masela, went to work at a club in the city’s Itaewon area about 6pm on Saturday. That was the last time Aby, a Seoul resident from the Ivory Coast, saw him.

“I called his number but … he wasn’t answering,” Aby told Reuters while standing in the Hannam-dong Community Service Centre, which became a makeshift missing persons facility in the wake of the disaster.

Bureaucrats who typically handle birth certificates or housing registrations sought to help hundreds of distraught people seeking details of their relatives.

Officers at the centre manned emergency phone lines, taking hundreds of frantic calls to find missing people.

One person broke down and kneeled on the floor after speaking to some officials at the centre, according to a Reuters witness.

A white board in the main office lists updated numbers of calls every hour, totalling more than 3580 since 5.30 am local time on Sunday.

“No one is telling me the truth,” said Aby, who has lived in Seoul with her son for 18 years. With no sign of news about the son, Aby left the centre for the Ivory Coast embassy.

Most identities known

Interior Minister Lee Sang-min told a briefing about 90 per cent of the victims had been identified.

An official at a funeral home linked to a hospital in Seoul said there were at least two bodies from the incident at the facility on Sunday.

They appeared to have been from outside of Seoul, leading to a delay in family members being able to retrieve the remains, the official said.

“The families need to get this certificate from the police, then we can release the bodies to the families,” the official said.

“If the family would want to find out the cause of the death, then they could request an autopsy, but for these bodies, the cause of death seems pretty clear to me.”


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