VIENNA, Austria (AP) – A panicked crowd of snowboarding fans stampeded out of a stadium in Innsbruck, crushing five people to death and trampling dozens of others, officials said Sunday.
Rescue workers and police sources said it appeared a crowd leaving the Olympic stadium on Saturday night had slipped on any icy slope and slid into a barrier that gave way, causing a pileup and panic in the mass behind.
“A large crowd was lying on the ground … and another crowd from behind pushed against them,” Michael Wildner, an emergency worker with the Red Cross, told Austrian state television.
Four Austrians and one Australian, all females aged 14 to 21, were trampled to death by spectators leaving the stadium after the “Air and Style” snowboarding event, police said. Dozens of others were trampled and 16 people remained hospitalized early Sunday, four of them in comas with life-threatening injuries, Dr. Norbert Mutz at the Innsbruck hospital, told Austrian state television.
Several sports associations have said the stadium was ill-equipped to handle the crowd of 40,000 fans who attended the sold-out snowboarding competitions Saturday. Built in 1964 for the Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, the stadium is to be renovated in 2001.
The accident occurred shortly after 10 p.m. Saturday. Wildner said emergency workers arrived quickly and were able to move the crowd back into the stadium, preventing any further injuries.
The scene apparently became so chaotic at one point that a police officer fired a shot in the air when ambulance crews rushing to the scene were nearly trampled.
Reports said the covered bodies of the victims remained on the ground for several hours after the accident.
Arnold Stattmann, director of the Innsbruck police said the stadium had been prepared with optimal security and an extra 200 men had been hired for the event.
Innsbruck Mayor Herwig van Staa told state television that alcohol may have played a role in the tragedy, adding that “many youths were heavily intoxicated.” Beer and hot mulled wine were sold at the event.
A World Cup snowboarding event on the Kitzsteinhorn glacier near Kaprun in Austria scheduled for Sunday was canceled because of safety concerns.
–MELISSA EDDY Associated Press Writer