A tragic event occurred over the weekend in Itaewon for Halloween, taking away the lives of many young people. Media outlet YTN made a direct phone call to Dr. Lee Beom Seok, a doctor directly dispatched to the scene, to find out details of what happened that night.
Telephone connection: Dr. Lee Beam Seok (participated in on-site rescue)
Anchor: We will connect with the informant who was at the scene and listen to the situation in detail. Mr. Lee Beom Seok, are you here? First of all, can you explain what kind of situation you were going through at the time of the accident?
Dr. Lee: I first heard about it through the news and saw that the incident started around 10:20 PM KST. But when I first saw a patient, I was on the street, and suddenly around 11:05 PM, I saw firefighters in an alley rushing to the street carrying two female patients. I went to see what was happening, and they were doing CPR on the two patients. Then about five minutes later, two more patients were laid down, and the number of patients increased, so I immediately joined the scene as a medical staff.
Anchor: And I hear that you are a doctor. We heard that as a doctor, you were directly dispatched to the scene and carried out the rescue operation. Is that true?
Dr. Lee: That is correct. Patients kept coming out near Itaewon Station, and ambulances had to keep coming in and out, so patients had to be moved toward the Yongsan-gu office. We were short of rescue staff initially, but citizens began to help, and we could move everyone together. Then we continued to proceed with CPR at the new location.
Anchor: Then what time was it when you first began to do CPR?
Dr. Lee: I was directly dispatched to this around 11:10-15 PM.
Anchor: 11:10-15 PM. So since the fire department said the accident occurred around 10:22 PM, you started about 50 minutes after the accident. Then while you were doing CPR, how many people did you see collapse around you?
Dr. Lee: It started with two people, then 4, and 5, it kept increasing, and the numbers grew out of control. As a result, the rescue staff worked very hard and were very busy, but there were not enough people. So then citizens also came and helped with CPR.
Anchor: How was the condition of the patients when they were rescued?
Dr. Lee: First off, the patient’s faces were so pale that it’s hard to say. And I couldn’t read a pulse or any signs of breathing. So I immediately proceeded with CPR, and many patients had nosebleeds. So after dilating the airway with CPR, they also had bleeding in the mouth, so we removed the blood.
Anchor: Lee Beom Seok, who was at the scene as a doctor, is currently on the phone with us. You were directly dispatched to the scene around 11:10-15 PM. How long did you perform CPR, and for how long?
Dr. Lee: The patients I directly dealt with were about 5-6 people lying on the street. Not only I but other nurses and doctors were all working together. Usually, about two to three people performed CPR per patient, and about four to five people came around to massage the patients’ legs, take off their shoes, expand the airways, and wipe the blood. Hence, about six people helped per patient.
Anchor: It looks like citizens responded quickly and appropriately. You mentioned earlier that there were common symptoms among patients. You said many patients had nosebleeds with blood in their mouths. Is it common to bleed like this from suffocation and crushing?
Dr. Lee: First off, there are usually a lot of symptoms like that, but other than that, another common thing I saw was that most of the patients were women. And the other thing is that the weather was still a bit cold, but they all wore thin outfits, which made me wonder if it was because they were indoors. And to verify the identity of the patients, I looked for bags, phones, and wallets, but there were none. So, everyone I was working with thought these people were from indoors, but we later found out on the news that it was due to crushing. And aside from that, I could see their stomachs expanding while doing CPR.
Anchor: Their stomachs were expanding?
Dr. Lee: Yes. It wasn’t just one patient, but about five to six people that we were aiding. When I rushed to find a medical team from the direction of Itaewon, the situation over there was much worse. There was a shortage of medical staff, and the rescue workers were very busy, so very few people could do CPR directly.
Anchor: As a doctor, do you think these symptoms, pale faces, nosebleeds, traces of blood in the mouth, stomach expanding, are common?
Dr. Lee: In the case of abdominal distension, when we talked with the medical staff, we couldn’t confirm whether it was gas or bleeding. So in that part, we can’t tell you exactly…
Anchor: How many patients did you see with abdominal distension?
Dr. Lee: From our side, about six people.
Anchor: Were the six people with this symptom all on the ground?
Dr. Lee: At first, they weren’t, but their stomachs all started expanding gradually, and when I went to the Itaewon area I mentioned earlier, I noticed that patients who had already died also had abdominal swelling.
Anchor: So they were okay at first, but as time passed, you witnessed their stomachs expanding. Then after you were dispatched and performed CPR, how many people regained their consciousness?
Dr. Lee: This part is very upsetting, but we worked on our side and confirmed that one patient on the other side regained consciousness. But other than that, I couldn’t confirm if anyone else regained consciousness. So many rescue staff, police, and citizens continued to perform CPR and did not leave the site. We performed CPR for over an hour for each patient.
Anchor: Did you receive news from the field after the rescue operation ended?
Dr. Lee: I haven’t heard any news.
Anchor: You said that everyone mostly performed CPR for over an hour. Although small, we know you must have continued CPR with a bit of hope. Were there not enough staff around you?
Dr. Lee: Usually, rescuers come by ambulance and must use a lot of workforces to transport urgent patients. The number of patients was so large we didn’t have enough workforce to handle it. And we lacked automatic decompressor machines, so we did CPR manually with two to three people per patient.
Anchor: We have talked with a doctor from the field. This is from Dr. Lee Beom Seok, who witnessed the situation on the scene as a doctor and performed CPR. It must have been difficult to talk about, and we thank you for your time.
Dr. Lee: Thank you.
People in the medical field also came to the scene in hopes of being able to help in some way or another. Online posts reveal what these people witnessed on-site.
The horrifying scene in Itaewon
I come on here to Blind sometimes to just browse. Last night, I was close to Itaewon and after I heard about the incident I decided to go because I knew how to do CPR. I’m usually pretty dull so I thought I would be okay, but after arriving there it was horrifying.
It was pure chaos as I heard ambulance sirens and crying just a few feet away from me. I told the police that were blocking off the streets that I was a medical staff that has come to help and knows how to do CPR and they let me in.
The faces of the people on the ground were past being pale and on the verge of cyanosis. One medical staff that was doing CPR on a patient had a nose bleed and blood coming out of their mouth. I had the feeling that I could not save this person.
But the most horrifying thing were the bystanders watching this whole thing and not leaving.
There were patients being rushed off in ambulances and while I took a quick rest behind an ambulance to drink water, I heard someone who looked to be in their twenties say, ‘Hey do you want to finish drinking in Hongdae?’ and it made me rethink about the existence of mankind.
It was already horrifying to think that I had become a useless doctor because I couldn’t hear a pulse no matter how many times I did CPR, but seeing people who could care less about another person’s death and only think about where to drink next is something that I will never forget. I really hope there are no more deaths.
The comments on this post revealed the trauma that other medical staff encountered while on the scene.
Hyung I was there and started helping right away and for the first time I felt hatred towards humanity. There were so many people taking pictures of the deceased. Did you get PTSD? I thought I had seen enough deaths in this field, but yesterday was really shocking. I couldn’t stop after seeing friends of the patients crying and asking me to save them even though there was no way to save them. These moments keep popping up in my head.
At around 10:15 PM KST on October 29, a large-scale crushing accident occurred in Itaewon. Currently, the Itaewon crowd surge has killed 154 people and injured 132. Out of the 132 injured, 36 remain in critical condition