The first calls to police about the crush in Seoul that killed more than 150 people came in four hours before the incident turned fatal.
Transcripts of the 11 emergency calls made in the hours before reveal the growing fear of revellers and how they urged police to intervene as the Halloween party descended into chaos and tragedy.
The first warning of a possible deadly surge was made at 6.34pm on Saturday evening, roughly four hours before the crush became deadly.
National Police Commissioner General Yoon Hee-keun acknowledged on Tuesday that crowd control at the scene was “inadequate”, and revealed police received multiple reports of possible accidents on the night of the disaster.
The interior minister and the city mayor also apologised as experts said proper crowd and traffic control could have prevented, or at least reduced, the surge.
The transcripts, released to media, give a chilling prediction of how the tragedy would unfold.
“Looks like you can get crushed to death with people keep coming up here while there’s no room for people to go down,” someone said in that first call to police.
“I barely managed to leave but there are too many people, looks like you should come and control.”
Saturday’s crush killed 156 people, many in their teens and 20s, and injured another 157 as partygoers flooded the narrow alleyways of Itaewon to celebrate the first mostly unrestricted Halloween in three years.
Police received 10 further calls, all reporting that there were too many people, before things were known to have turned fatal.
The transcripts seem to confirm the accounts of witnesses, who said they saw some police directing traffic on the main road but few or no officers in the crowded pedestrian areas.
Roughly 100,000 people were estimated to be in Itaewon on Saturday, an area known for its hills and narrow alleys.
Authorities say there were 137 police officers there at the time.
Another transcript from a call made at 8:33pm read: “People are falling down on the streets, looks like there could be an accident, it looks very dangerous.”
The latest call released by the police came in at 10:11pm, just minutes before people who were packed into one particularly narrow and sloping alley began to fall over each other.
“(People) will get crushed to death here. It’s chaotic,” the transcript of that call says, noting that screams were heard over the phone.
Police went to the scene for four out of the 11 calls, an official told reporters.
It was not immediately clear why they did not deploy officials to the other calls or what safety measures they took after arriving.
“Those things are all under inspection now, so it’s difficult for me to answer at this point,” a National Police Agency official said.
“The police will speedily and rigorously conduct intensive inspections and investigation on all aspects without exception to explain the truth of this accident,” police commissioner Yoon told a news conference earlier.
As police began investigating how so many people were killed, Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said the probe would also cover whether government agencies’ on-site responses were appropriate.
President Yoon Suk-yeol has declared a week of national mourning and called for better safety measures to manage crowds even when there is no central organising entity.
The festivities in Itaewon did not have a central organiser, which meant government authorities were not required to establish or enforce safety protocols.