A massive crowd crush was triggered by police firing tear gas after an Indonesian soccer match. The ensuing panic and rush to the exits left at least 174 people dead and hundreds more injured.
Police attempted to control a crowd after a match between host Arema FC of East Java’s Malang city and Persebaya Surabaya. According to the Associated Press, police beat people with sticks and shields and then began shooting tear gas into the crowd, at which point panic ensued and people began rushing toward stadium exits.
It was among the deadliest disasters ever at sporting event. President Joko Widodo ordered an investigation of security procedures, and the president of FIFA called the deaths “a dark day for all involved in football and a tragedy beyond comprehension.” While FIFA has no control over domestic games, it has advised against the use of tear gas at soccer stadiums.
Home team Persebaya had lost the match 3-2 in front of a crowd of 42,000, and some of the Arema threw bottles and other objects at players and soccer officials. At least five police vehicles were toppled and set ablaze outside the stadium.
“The stadium turned into a smoke-filled battleground when police fired tear gas,” said Rizky, who goes by one name. He came with his cousin to watch the game.
“I felt hot and stinging in my eyes, I couldn’t see clearly while my head was dizzy and everything went dark ... I passed out,” he said. When he woke up, he was already in the emergency room. He said his cousin died because of head injuries.
In the chaos that followed the firing of tear gas, some fans suffocated and others were trampled. The Associated Press reported that 34 people died at the stadium, including two officers.
“Some were trampled, some fell down and some got hit,” Rian Dwi Cahyono told Sky News from the hospital, where he was being treated for an injured arm. Asked what triggered the panic, he replied: “Tear gas.”
East Java police chief Nico Afinta defended the use of tear gas.
“We have already done a preventive action before finally firing the tear gas as (fans) began to attack the police, acting anarchically and burning vehicles,” he told a news conference early Sunday.
According to the Associated Press, Saturday’s game is already among the world’s worst crowd disasters, including the 1996 World Cup qualifier between Guatemala and Costa Rica in Guatemala City where over 80 died and over 100 more were injured. In April 2001, more than 40 people are crushed to death during a soccer match at Ellis Park in Johannesburg, South Africa.