Wednesday 22 November 2017

Festival organisers 'ignored Death Tunnel safety advice'

Probe as 19 killed and 340 hurt in crush

Rescue workers treat an injured person as firefighters and policemen survey the scene
Rescue workers treat an injured person as firefighters and policemen survey the scene
Amateur footage of the stampede at the tunnel entrance as thousands of festival-goers attempted to gain access to the event

Tony Paterson in Berlin

THE floor of Duisburg's 'Death Tunnel' was littered with broken spectacles, discarded trainers, torn clothing and medical equipment left by frantic ambulance crews yesterday -- 24 hours after the stampede at the city's Love Parade that killed 19 revellers and injured more than 340 others.

The organisers of the festival were accused yesterday of seriously miscalculating the size of the crowds and for having rejected a police security plan drawn up in advance because it was too expensive.

It was the worst tragedy in the celebrated techno music event's 21-year history. Among those killed were festival-goers from China, Australia, Italy and the Netherlands.

It happened in bright sunshine on Saturday afternoon. A huge crowd of some 500,000 festival-goers was making its way from the Rhine city's main railway station through a 300-yard tunnel toward the festival site already packed with more than one million techno ravers.

Fears that the area would be overwhelmed by the approaching crowd prompted police to seal off the exit to the tunnel and order the revellers to turn back. Panic ensued.

"I will never forget the sight," said one woman who was trapped in the tunnel. "There were all these twisted bodies of those who had been crushed. They were lying at the tunnel exit," she said. "Their faces had all turned blue."

The huge crowd rushing from Duisburg's main station through the tunnel was comprised of revellers who were trying to get into the festival to witness its main closing parade.


"It was idiotic of the police to try to turn back a crowd of ravers who were hell-bent on getting into the festival," complained Jorg Sandmann (21), a student who was at the back of the tunnel.

"Nobody wanted to hear that they couldn't get in. They just surged forward," he added.

Police and Duisburg city officials dodged questions about the causes of the tragedy at a press conference yesterday, which was described as "chaotic" by several German media outlets.

Adolf Sauerland, Duisburg's mayor, argued that until the investigation was complete, any apportioning of guilt would be "out of place and out of order".

"That would be an injustice to the victims and their families," he insisted. But despite official stonewalling, the finger of blame was being pointed at the organisers.

Germany's 'Der Spiegel' magazine's website revealed the Duisburg police and fire brigade had recruited a team of security experts to carry out a study in the run-up to the festival.

The experts concluded that it was vital to avoid the kind of 'eye-of-the-needle' situation that was eventually created by making a 300-yard tunnel the only access route to the Love Parade site. However, the organisers allegedly rejected the experts' suggestions because they would have meant deploying a far larger police force and resulted in higher costs.

The allegations made by the Duisburg police and fire brigade were backed by the German police trades union. It disclosed that police security experts had said they had "huge reservations" about the planning for the event.

Wolfgang Orscheschek, the regional police union deputy head, said the site chosen for the festival was far too small.

Eyewitnesses said chaos broke out at the exit of the tunnel as revellers tried to scale fences, a lighting mast and a concrete stairway at its side whose exit had also been blocked off.

Several of the revellers fell off the stairs into the crowd; others pushed by the throng surging toward the exit from behind simply collapsed on top of them. A stampede ensued with hundreds of victims being trampled in the crush.

"The atmosphere was explosive, many in the crowd seemed to be intoxicated," said one police officer.

"When people started falling off the stairs and pulling others with them, it became chaotic," he added. "They just couldn't be stopped. It was a living hell."

Police and ambulance crews fought in vain to get to the injured and dead lying at the tunnel exit. Late on Saturday night, Duisburg's police chief was forced to admit the situation was "very chaotic".

Yet in order to prevent another panic-induced stampede, the organisers refused to call a halt to the event. One million ravers were allowed to continue partying well into the evening. Most did not learn of the tragedy until they started leaving.

As state prosecutors opened an official investigation into the disaster, Rainer Schaller, the festival's organiser, announced there would be no more Love Parade festivals in Germany under his supervision.

"Out of respect for the victims, their families and friends, we are going to discontinue the event and that means the end of the Love Parade," he said.

Irish Independent

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