S. Korea pop concert had no safety staff when grate collapsed: Police

SOUTH KOREA - The police said Sunday that no safety personnel were dispatched to Friday's outdoor concert in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, where the collapse of a ventilation grate killed 16 people and wounded 11 others.

During a press briefing, the investigation team of the Gyeonggi Provincial Police Agency also said that it had barred six people from leaving the country in connection with the tragic accident and raided some 20 offices of the organizers and sponsors of the event.

"Based not on the facts, but on the statements we have so far secured, no safety staff was dispatched to the concert, although there were four listed as the safety personnel in the document for the concert plan," said a police officer.

"The four were employees of the Gyeonggi Institute of Science and Technology Promotion, and they did not know they were listed as the staff in charge of safety issues."

The police added that none of the organising staff received any education or training about safety issues.

The police accelerated its investigation into the exact cause of the accident in a square of Pangyo Techno Valley, a large-scale business complex southeast of Seoul, amid growing public angst over a spate of preventable man-made disasters this year including the April ferry disaster that killed more than 300 people.

The accident occurred Friday evening during a concert featuring popular Korean singers including girl group 4Minute.

Some 700 people had gathered at the square with many struggling to get a better view of performers onstage.

The 27 victims climbed onto the grate over a ventilation shaft to better view the performances and dropped nearly 19 meters down to the basement of a parking lot, after the grate suddenly collapsed.

Over the weekend, the investigators have questioned some 20 officials from the online news service Edaily, the primary organizer of the concert, and the sponsors, which included the GISTP, Gyeonggi Province and Seongnam City.

Among those questioned was the 37-year-old official from the GISTP who was in charge of the safety planning for the concert.

The official, surnamed Oh, was found dead on a street close to his office building Saturday in an apparent suicide. Oh is thought to have jumped from the top of a 10-story building.

The blame game also continued over the designation of the hosts. Edaily, the key organizer, continued to argue that Gyeonggi Province and Seongnam City agreed to be listed as cohosts, but the two claimed that their names were listed without their consent.

Amid the controversy over the hosts, critics argued that those involved in the case seem to be trying to avoid or minimise their responsibility for the deadly accident.

Earlier in the day, some 60 investigators stormed the Seoul Edaily offices and the offices of the sponsors including the GISTP, to secure evidence for their probe.

The Gyeonggi Provincial Police Agency has mobilized nearly 90 investigators to speed up its probe and appointed its deputy chief to head the probe team.

"We conducted the raid to gather basic documents to facilitate our probe, not because we have found any charge of manslaughter," a police officer told media, declining to be named. "We also raided the offices out of concern that evidence could be destroyed."

Along with the issue of whether the organizers planned the concert in accordance with the public safety rules, the police are also investigating whether the grate in question was flawed or installed in a haphazard way. The probe results are expected to come out later this week, officials said.

Edaily Chairman Kwak Jae-sun apologised to the families of the victims, saying that Edaily would take responsibility as the key organizer of the concert.

"Due to structural problems and carelessness, an accident took place.

As a responsible media outlet, we will take responsibility if need be," he told a throng of reporters after he met Gyeonggi Province Gov. Nam Kyung-pil and Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myeong to discuss follow-up measures.

"We expressed our deepest apologies to the bereaved families."

Kwak added that Edaily's scholarship foundation will cover all tuition fees for the children of the victims' families.

Seongnam City's taskforce to handle the accident has decided to offer 30 million won ($28,155) to each bereaved family and to financially support those injured in the accident.

The accident occurred just six months after the nation's worst-ever ferry disaster in April.

In May, eight people were killed in a fire at a bus terminal in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province, while in February, a roof of a resort facility collapsed, killing 10 people. Analysts argued that these accidents occurred in part because of a lack of safety awareness.