Indonesia football tragedy: Survivors tell stadium tragedy as officials say closed exits contributed to crush

Jakarta, Indonesia

Fans trying to escape the chaos that erupted at Indonesia’s Kanjuruhan stadium last Saturday were trapped after security failed to open multiple exit gates, the national football association said, contributing to the crowd crush that left at least 131 people died.

Security forces are facing mounting anger over their role in the disaster, amid questions about whether officers used excessive force to remove fans from the pitch following Arema FC’s 3-2 defeat to visitors Persebaya Surabaya.

The disaster, one of the worst in the sport’s history, saw some of the 42,000 Arema FC fans clash with police, prompting security forces to fire tear gas into the closed off areas of the stadium. Most of the deaths, including 33 children, are believed to have occurred as fans panicked as they tried to flee from the suffocating smoke, leading to a crush at the exits.

Indonesian police have launched an investigation into the use of tear gas at the match in the city of Malang, leading to the suspension of nine officers from East Java province.

But amid accusations of mismanagement by both the police and the game’s organizers, survivors of the tragedy are demanding answers.

“We were all disappointed with the outcome of the match, but there was no (sign of) violence or chaos until the police started firing tear gas,” said Arema fan Toni Lestari Widodo, 62.

It “only escalated the situation” and made it worse, he said. “The police overreacted in their handling of the situation. I really don’t understand why they did it. There was really no sense for violence (on their part).”

Andi Hariyanto, 32, lost several members of his family in the tragedy, including his wife, two teenage daughters and cousin.

He had stayed in the stands with his family to avoid rushing into the crowds rushing to the exits.

Riot police on the pitch fired tear gas at supporters in the stands, he said.

“It was a big mistake,” he said. “Don’t they know that there were many women and children who also watched the game? I still do not understand. What did we do to make them want to shoot us?”

Hariyanto managed to escape the ensuing infatuation along with his 2-year-old son, Gian.

His wife, Gebi Asta Putri Purwoko, and their two daughters, Natasya Debi Ramadani, 14, and Naila Debi Anggraini, 12, did not.

Around midnight, he returned to the stadium, where dozens of body bags lay on the floor. “One by one I opened the covers to find my family,” he said.

“Then I found Natasya and Naila lying there close to each other,” he said, fighting back tears. “I can’t remember how many bodies I checked to find them, but when I finished everything I still couldn’t find my wife.”

In a statement Tuesday, the Indonesian Football Association said it has permanently removed the security officer responsible for controlling exits from the stadium. It said some gates were left locked during the disaster because the orders were not being passed on properly.

“The doors should have been open, but were closed,” said Erwin Tobing, head of the association’s discipline committee. There are a total of 14 gates at the stadium.

Safety rules and measures state that gates must be unlocked 10 minutes before the end of a match.

On the night of the disaster, several gates were still locked minutes after the referee gave the final whistle, the association noted.

Spokesman Ahmad Riyadh also blamed the shortage of workers, saying “only a few guards” were there to open the gates.

All matches of the Indonesian football league have been suspended by order of President Joko Widodo, as an official investigation is underway. On Wednesday, Widodo said he will order a “total audit” of football stadiums across the country in an effort to prevent further tragedies.

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