32 children among the 125 dead in Indonesia soccer stampede, inquiry team to be formed

People offering their condolences to the victims of a riot and stampede, outside Kanjuruhan stadium in Malang, Indonesia, on Oct 3, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS
People pay condolences to the victims of the soccer match riot and stampede in Denpasar, Bali, on Oct 2, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
A group of people carry a man at Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, East Java, on Oct 1, 2022. PHOTO: AFP
Football supporters attending a candlelight vigil for victims at Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang on Oct 2, 2022. PHOTO: AFP
A damaged car seen at Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang on Oct 2, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

MALANG, Indonesia - An independent fact-finding team will likely take about two weeks to complete investigations into Indonesia's deadly soccer stampede that killed at least 125 people in East Java over the weekend, the authorities said on Monday. 

At least 32 children were counted among the 125 people dead from the stampede, officials said as the local mayor promised to focus on providing trauma counselling for those affected in one of the world's worst stadium disasters. 

On Monday, Malang Mayor Sutiaji described reactions among some of the spectators who witnessed the Saturday night tragedy as it unfolded. 

"We have a fifth-grader who watched and witnessed both of his parents killed," an emotional Mayor Sutiaji said in a video from his office, his voice cracking. 

He said the child stopped speaking for a day from shock. 

"He is the only child and is now with his grandfather... What we are concerned about is child trauma," he said, adding that the government would prioritise and bear all costs of trauma counselling required by those who witnessed the event. 

The independent investigation team would find the perpetrators behind the disaster, Chief Security Minister Mahfud MD told a news conference.

It should take about two weeks and will consider whether any laws were broken, what compensation should be provided to victims and how Indonesian soccer can prevent future stadium disasters, he said.

Indonesia’s Arema football club apologised to the victims, with its president Gilang Widya Pramana stating that he was ready to take full responsibility for the event. 

A newly built lion statue, Arema FC's symbol, would be used as a remembrance site for Indonesia's worst football tragedy. ST PHOTO: WAHYUDI SOERIAATMADJA

Pressure is building on Indonesian authorities to explain how the disaster happened. 

Saturday's deadly crush came as panicking spectators tried to escape the overpacked stadium after police fired tear gas to disperse fans from the losing home side who ran onto the pitch at the end of the match.

Violence and hooliganism have long been features of Indonesian football, especially in places such as Jakarta, the capital, but Saturday's disaster in a small town in East Java has thrown a spotlight on the problem.

Mr Bachrul Aiman, 19, a high school graduate who does business selling food online, recounted the onset of the chaos. 

Mr Bachrul Aiman (right) and his friend Eka Febrianti visited the stadium to lay flowers at noon on Oct 3, 2022. ST PHOTO: WAHYUDI SOERIAATMADJA

"At first, I saw two people climb over a fence and run onto the pitch, and it was not long before all the others followed suit," he told The Straits Times. "Police threw tear gas towards section 10, where we were watching the game. People panicked, and then started rushing out." 

He added: "I pulled my older brother out from under a pile of people as the spectators rushed out of the stadium. I quickly took him to a safe spot, or he could have been one of those trampled on by the stampede."

Mr Bachrul said his brother was treated in hospital for breathing problems, but has since been discharged. Mr Bachrul himself remained at the scene, offering help to those who had been injured under the crush. 

"After a while when things were relatively more settled, I and many others helped those who had fallen and had been stepped on," he said. "We carried the ones who were still breathing to a corner, and those who were not to another spot." 

Still coming to terms with the tragedy, Mr Bachrul added tearfully: "I have lost too many friends. My former high school friends, my neighbours, and the people we regularly hang out with." 

Malang residents and supporters turned up at the stadium on Monday to lay flowers and pray for the stampede victims. 

"They are all my brothers," said Arema FC fan Muhammad Bakhry, 38, who was laying flowers at the scene. "We do not intend to find fault, but an investigation is needed to make it clear what happened. Let this be a lesson for all of us." 

Remote video URL

Outside the stadium the previous night, people had held a vigil beneath a roaring lion statue – Arema FC’s symbol – to honour the victims. 

Dr Bobi Prabowo, director of Kanjuruhan hospital, a minute's drive from the stadium, told reporters that those who were taken to the hospital on Saturday night mostly suffered from trauma, shortness of breath and a lack of oxygen. 

"When you are in a situation where there is a lack of oxygen, due to tear gas, and you are in (a state of) panic at the same time, the next thing that could happen is that you faint," he said. 

A boy being carried as members of the Indonesian army secure the pitch at Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang on Oct 1, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

Some patients sustained multiple injuries from having been stepped on by the stampeding crowd, Dr Prabowo said.

Grieving family members of the victims were trying to make sense of the tragedy. 

"My family and I didn't think it would turn out like this," said Endah Wahyuni, the elder sister of two boys, Ahmad Cahyo, 15, and Muhammad Farel, 14, who died after being caught in the melee.

"They loved soccer, but never watched Arema live at Kanjuruhan stadium, this was their first time," she told Reuters at her brothers' funeral on Sunday, referring to the home side they backed.

Arema FC supporters enter the field after the team lost to Persebaya at Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang on Oct 1, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

Indonesian daily Koran Tempo ran a black front page on Monday, centred on the words "Our Football Tragedy", printed in red along with a list of the dead.

Home side Arema FC had lost the match 3-2 to Persebaya Surabaya, though the authorities had said tickets were not issued to Persebaya fans over security concerns.

Remote video URL

Arema FC coach Javier Roca appealed to football fans to stop viewing one another as enemies. 

"(They behave) as if those who win will live and those who lose will be doomed. Stop believing that," Mr Roca said. 

There is typically a winner and a loser in every match, and it should be viewed as an accepted part of competition rather than as a catastrophe, he added.

The incident was a "dark day for all involved", said Fifa, the governing body for world soccer, which has asked Indonesian football authorities for a report on the incident.

Its safety regulations say firearms or "crowd control gas" should not be used at matches.

Police and sport officials have been sent to the city of Malang to investigate an incident that ranks among the world's deadliest stadium disasters.

"All those responsible should be held accountable for this disaster, regardless of their status or position," Mr Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch said on Monday.

"It's not enough for the national police and the Football Association of Indonesia to conduct their own investigation because they may be tempted to downplay or undermine full accountability for officials involved," he added in a statement. 

  • Additional reporting from Reuters 

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.