Crowd Crush: A Look Back On This Deadly Phenomenon

By | November 2, 2022

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Concert crowd from above, London, United Kingdom. (Susan S. Xie/Getty Images)

People love to gather in large numbers to celebrate the things they hold dear, but crowds can be surprisingly dangerous places, as the horrifying phenomenon of crowd collapse or crowd crushing can cause mass casualty events as shocking as they are tragic. Crowd crushing may seem like a rare phenomenon, but it happens many times a year across the globe when large crowds suddenly become so dense that the people in them lose the ability to move on their own and can be crushed to the point of rib breaking, suffocation, and even death, all while standing on their own two feet. Once you find yourself in a crowd crush, there's little you can do besides hold your arms in front of you to give your chest enough room to expand, so the best thing to do is avoid super-dense areas and leave as soon as you begin to feel unsafe. If history has taught us anything about crowd crushing, it's that you don't want to wait until it's too late.

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Spectators gathered at Khodynka. (Vladimir Makovsky/Wikimedia Commons)

The Khodynka Tragedy

In 1896, over 500,000 Russians gathered at Moscow's Khodynka Field to celebrate the new reign of Nicolas II, the last Emperor of Russia. The party started early, and many revelers were excited to receive the free food and presents that were being distributed around the festival, but after word got out that some of the free cups contained gold coins, people began flocking toward the giveaways and the crowd grew ever denser until those at the front and center were unable to escape the unyielding pressure of other human bodies. Over 1,200 people died, but you wouldn't have known it from the outside, as the party continued and the corpses of the common folk were swiftly carried away. Nicholas II likewise didn't pay their deaths much mind and attended the planned ball in his honor, earning the side eye of a visiting Chinese diplomat, who commented that a Chinese emperor would not be so blasé about such a tragic event, as well as the nickname "Bloody Nicholas."

Hillsborough, England

The coordinators of the 1989 football game between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest attempted to prevent overcrowding by splitting spectators up between two wide-standing pens, but it did little to help. Unaware that the people at the front of the pens were being crushed against the fences, people just kept pouring in. Some fans tried to save themselves by climbing the fences, but in the end, 97 people died in the squeeze.