The over-sold festival resulted in a fatal crowd crush.
By Ashima Sethi
What is Astroworld
On Friday night, the third edition of Astroworld Festival took place at NRG Park in Houston, Texas, USA. The annual festival, ran by rapper Travis Scott, promised a stellar lineup for its 2021 edition, including the likes of SZA, Roddy Rich, Don Toliver, and more.
With so much excitement surrounding the festival, the decision was made to double the number of attendees that would be admitted, and despite allocating 100,000 tickets for this year across two nights, the event sold out within 30 minutes.
On the day, witnesses say that lines were already incredibly long in the early morning hours, with thousands eager to enter the festival-cum-amusement park grounds. After the gates officially opened at 10am, festivalgoers described how fans who didn’t score tickets began to trample the fences surrounding the venue, rushing security to get in. As a result, the crowds grew quickly as the hours passed.
Attendees who had been to previous Astroworld Festivals were quick to notice that the event was massive in size compared to its predecessors. Lines were long, crowds were chaotic, and with only two free water stations available, the venue seemed like it was reaching a breaking point trying to accommodate all the festivalgoers.
Regardless, the event pushed ahead.
A timeline of what happened on the day
The first few artists performed on what was dubbed the Thrills Stage, while Travis Scott, the festival’s headliner was the only musician who was set to perform on the Chills Stage, also called Utopia Mountain. The giant, 5 million dollar mountain-like stage apparently took three days to build and was fitted with top-of-the-line pyro, lasers, and other audio-visual equipment.
As SZA’s set came to a close, a timer appeared at the Chills Stage giving fans approximately 45 minutes to make their way to Utopia Mountain to see Travis perform. As the final set, and only one taking place at 8.45pm, over 50,000 attendees began to gather in front of the one stage. A decision that experts are now saying paid a major role in the crowd crush that would soon unfold.
Reports from the medical tent said that the medical personnel were already overwhelmed with the number of individuals who had passed out from laced drugs, heat, exhaustion, dehydration, and crowd pressure, before Travis’ set had even begun. In a report by the NYT, it is believed the main medical tent was only staffed with two doctors, six nurses, two paramedics, and nine EMTs.
The crowd crush and horrors that unfolded
Soon after the performance began, the crowd began to surge dangerously. The attendees were so pressed together that they could not inhale to take a full breath, people were falling over and becoming trapped under waves of feet, and people were falling unconscious due to heat and lack of oxygen.
It is scary to note that the event was an all-ages event, so young attendees as young as four and five were falling from their parents’ arms into the middle of large crowds of people pushing against each other.
At 9.38pm the Houston Police Department declared the event a ‘mass casualty event’ but the concert kept going despite the growing number of casualties.
Footage from the event shows medical buggies and staff unable to move through the densely-packed crowd to provide the help required. Members of the rowdy crowd were standing atop ambulances not allowing them to pass, people were crowdsurfing the bodies of their unconscious loved ones so they could be thrown over the protective barriers to safety, and other horrifying sights were unfolding.
At one point, a young woman was recorded on video going up to a cameraman and yelling “there is someone dead in there! Stop the show!” There were also instances where the crowd began to chant “stop the show,” but despite their efforts, the show continued with Travis playing his full set with the support of Drake, his surprise guest.
Survivors of the event have described their harrowing experiences, explaining how there were countless bodies sprawled out across the ground who were struggling to breathe or didn’t have a pulse at all. Videos have surfaced depicting young people giving their friends CPR desperately as they call out for medical help that simply wasn’t available. (Content warning for anyone looking up the videos, they are extremely graphic.)
It has been reported that 11 people are confirmed dead as a result of the crowd crush and over 300 are in hospital with serious injuries. A 14-year old and 16-year old were among those who lost their lives, and a nine year old boy has been put on life support.
In one short hour, the event became one of the deadliest crowd-control disasters in the USA.
The Houston Fire Chief has confirmed that there could’ve been upwards of 200,000 people at the event as a result of those who broke in, well over its capacity of 50,000 attendees.
An ICU nurse who happened to be at the concert described her experience to the media, claiming that when she offered to help the medical team with the mass influx of victims, it was clear that many of them were not trained in basic CPR, they did not know how to check for a pulse or conduct chest compressions.
The most common cause of injury at the event was compressive asphyxia, where people were pushed so close together that their airways had become constricted leading to consequences like fainting, cardiac arrest, seizures, and more. The police also reported that many individuals had been trampled.
Mirza Danish Baig and Bharti Shahani among the casualties
Although details are still being released, it has been confirmed that two South Asians are casualties from the tragic event. The first, 27-year old Mirza Danish Baig reportedly died while trying to save his fiancée, Olivia Swingle.
His younger brother, who survived the event, recounted how Danish tried to fight off scores of people who were suffocating Olivia, managing to get to a point where she could get out and the paramedics could attend to her. However, when they finally got Danish out and tried resuscitating him, it was too late. His fiancée has since written, “I am in hell. I would not be here today if it was not for him, he is a hero and the world needs to know his story.”
22-year old Bharti Shahani was also gravely injured in the commotion having been declared braindead as of today. The young Texas A&M student had attended the concert with her sister Namrata and cousin Mohit Bellani, but all three lost each other in the chaos that unfolded.
According to Mohit, “People started toppling like dominos, it was like a sinkhole…layers of bodies on the ground [at least] two people thick. We were fighting to come up to the top and breathe to stay alive.” It is believed that Bharti had lost oxygen for almost 10 minutes, leading to the swelling of her brain stem. She remains on a ventilator.
Where did it go wrong?
There is still much to be confirmed as the police are actively investigating the event, Live Nation (the festival’s organiser), and Travis Scott and his party about any potential negligence. Although it is unclear if Travis knew what was unfolding in the crowd, these questions come to mind:
Why did his team not make it apparent to him after the event was declared dangerous? Why did he keep performing? Why did the crowd’s pleas to stop the event go unnoticed? Why was there so few medical personnel on site? Did they have a safety plan in place for a crisis like this?
As of today, over 35 lawsuits have been filed and will continue to mount as the days go by as many believe this tragedy, as massive as it was, was entirely preventable.
More to this story as it develops.