Recently, a video titled, A heroic police officer who struggled alone to reduce the death toll from the Itaewon tragedy, was uploaded on YouTube and garnered over 200,000 views and 800 comments.
Sergeant Kim Baek Gyeom (31), can be seen directing people by himself with desperation in his eyes.
Although it’s him against the huge crowd, he continues to try his best to control the flow of traffic.
People are dying! PLEASE HELP!
— Sergeant Kim
He even gets up on a railing nearby in order to better direct the traffic to avoid any accident.
Media outlet Hankyoreh contacted the police officer Sergeant Kim over the phone to hear about the situation at the time of the incident.
What kind of report did you receive, and how did you end up at the scene?
To relay it in chronological order, I received a report of a quarrel around 10-10:10 PM and checked on it with two junior police offers in the same group. I didn’t receive any reports regarding crushing. I received a report about an argument with a passerby, and the report happened to be by the accident site.
Where was the exact location?
The report was near the alley next to the Hamilton Hotel. While we were on the way to the scene, several people filmed the accident site with cameras. Screams continued, and the sound of people could be heard. At that time, I thought, ‘Ah, something must have happened,’ I felt something big had happened because so many people were shouting. So my colleagues and I dived into the crowd. Upon entering, I witnessed a truly horrific scene. People crushed by the crowd stretched their hands and shouted, ‘Save me,’ and other citizens were already carrying out rescue operations. (Sergeant Kim could not speak for a while as he was overwhelmed with emotions while explaining the accident scene.)
How did the rescue operation go?
I followed the people who were already doing rescue operations and tried to grab the hands of citizens who were shouting, ‘Save me,’ and pull them out. However, it didn’t work because there were so many people. So I requested assistance by radio and began a rescue operation with other police officers who arrived at the scene. However, people kept coming down the alleyway, bringing more pressure to the scene and making evacuating even more difficult. So I ran with another officer to the alley behind the Hamilton Hotel.
Was that the scene in the video that was shared online?
Yes. At first, we thought if we removed the people from the back alleyway, the pressure in the middle point would be relieved, and the rescue operation could be carried out back and forth. As you can see from the video, I stood up on the railing and shouted, ‘People are dying,’ to have people moved to the back. People misunderstand that (in the video) people said they didn’t listen to us (the police), but they did move to the location we requested. So space was secured behind the accident site for rescue activities. But it seems the timing was too late. Most people at either end of the area made it out alive, but most in the middle were either dead or not breathing. Nevertheless, the police staff who came with me did not give up and continued rescue activities and CPR.
In the video, you can see citizens and firefighters working together to rescue them.
As the rescue operations continued, I started to lose my strength. I asked men in the vicinity for help and if there were men who could use some of their strength, and dozens of people came to help. We organized them into groups of four and asked for measures to be taken to move those who were lying down. Firefighters, police, and citizens responded to rescue efforts, yet many people died. If I had made my decision a little faster and had taken better action differently, I could have saved more people, but I feel unfortunate that I didn’t do that.
How do you feel after the accident?
When I lie down, I feel like the people who died at the time are looking at me, and I feel so sorry that my heart trembles. I regret that if I had made a wiser decision, I could have saved even one more person. My wife, who knows I’ve been having a hard time, continues to encourage me, and my family continues to call me so that I don’t think about anything else, so I am in a more relaxed state now. I decided to gather the courage to speak to the media because I wanted to convey my condolences to the bereaved family in this way. Every time I think about it, I am so sorry for the bereaved families..and I want to let them know just how sad I am.
What were your thoughts when you shouted, “People are dying?”
When I asked people to move, I witnessed the accident, and many people were still alive in the large crowd. (What time was that?) I think it was around 10:40-50 at night. At the midpoint of the accident (those who appeared to be still alive) were looking at me with their eyes and shouting, ‘Help’ and ‘Save me,’ so I had no choice but to get a space to get them out quickly. And the firefighters have to do rescue activities, but the crown keeps piling up behind them. I just wanted to secure that space. My only thought was to make a place so patients could quickly get to a safe place.
How have you been after the accident?
Coincidentally, my brother-in-law said he wanted to visit Itaewon for Halloween. While saving citizens from the crowd, I wondered if my brother-in-law was at the scene of the accident. But my brother-in-law had already gone home before the accident, and at that moment, I thought, ‘I could have lost my family.’ I can only think of the bereaved families now. I felt like this when I couldn’t contact my family, so I can’t imagine how the bereaved family must feel. So instead of having a hard time, I can only think of how to comfort these people.
What did your wife and co-workers say to you?
They said that I did my best and went above and beyond what I could do. They said, ‘Aren’t their people who lived because of you?’ But to me, that is not any consolation. I was comforted that people are hugging and encouraging me now, but I feel sorry for the bereaved family.
Netizens that saw the video voiced their opinions regarding the matter.
Watch the full video below.