SEOUL (REUTERS, AFP) - Two South Koreans died and several others, including athletes attending world aquatic championships, were injured after a balcony collapsed under the weight of party-goers at a South Korean nightclub, local police said Saturday (July 27).
The balcony at the venue close to the athletes' village in Gwangju was a mangled wreck after it gave way and dropped around five metres, as clubbers ran to the exit screaming.
A 38-year-old and a 27-year-old were rushed to hospital in grave condition after the inside balcony gave away at around 2.30am on Saturday, but both died from their injuries, according to local media, reporting that 16 people sustained injuries in the accident.
"An internal balcony collapsed at a club in Gwangju, killing two and injuring many, though the number of those injured could increase," said Mr Song Gi-ju, a detective with the Gwangju Metropolitan Police Agency.
"An autopsy is planned for the two tomorrow. The two, who are locals, are not related to the swimming competition."
Gwangju, about 330km south of the capital Seoul, has been hosting the championships, which feature swimming, water polo and diving, over the past fortnight. The meet finishes on Sunday.
Mr Kim Young-don, chief of the Gwangju Seobu Fire Station, told a briefing there were about 370 people in the club at the time."
We deem that the second level ... seems to have collapsed because there were too many people on it," he said. "The second level is a small space, it's not a space where a lot of people can be."
The 16 injured comprised of 10 foreigners, of which eight are athletes participating in the championships.
The eight injured athletes include three Americans, two New Zealanders, one Dutch, one Brazilian and one Italian. Police said earlier that among the Americans was a male diver and a female polo player.
Two athletes were treated at Chosun University Hospital, one was treated at an unnamed Gwangju hospital, and the remainder went to the athletes village medical centre for treatment for minor injuries, it said.
A Gwangju police officer told Reuters two co-owners and two workers at the nightclub were being questioned about possible illegal expansion and renovation at the nightclub, and the legality of its licensing.
Australian, New Zealand and US water polo officials confirmed team members were present when the incident occurred.
The women's water polo tournament wrapped up on Friday with the United States beating Spain in the final and Australia beating Hungary in the bronze medal match.
"This is an awful tragedy," said Mr Christopher Ramsey, CEO of USA Water Polo. "Players from our men's and women's teams were celebrating the women's world championship victory when the collapse occurred at a public club.
"Our hearts go out to the victims of the crash and their families."
Mr Ramsey added that all the American water polo players were "safe".
Pictures showed the mangled wreckage of the balcony that collapsed under the weight of party-goers.
"The site of the collapse was at the centre of the club where customers were most heavily located," said the party-goer, surnamed Kim.
The New Zealand water polo teams were also present, according to the New Zealand Herald.
Their men's captain told Radio Sport: "We were just dancing and then the next minute we dropped five or six metres and everyone started rushing out of the club after that. We, I guess, fell on top of the heads of other people that were beneath us."
Water Polo Australia said some of its players were in the club but were unhurt.
"Water Polo Australia can confirm that members of the Australian women's water polo team were celebrating their world championship bronze medal win at an establishment in Gwangju, South Korea last night when part of the balcony collapsed," it said a statement.
Organisers Fina said it "deeply regrets the situation and sends its best wishes to any victims of this accident".
"As some Championships' participants were present at the moment of the accident, Fina is carefully monitoring the situation and will activate all measures to ensure health care and assistance is provided whenever necessary," it said in a statement.