Astroworld tragedy lays bare dangers of mass gatherings and prompts questions about liability

Questions are being raised around liability at live events after deadly chaos erupted at Travis Scott’s Astroworld concert in Texas last Friday.

Eight people were killed during a ‘crowd surge’ when members of the 50,000-strong audience that showed up to watch Scott’s performance rushed forward.

The rush was reportedly sparked by a timer that ticked down to the start of the show, packing fans together so tight that many couldn’t breathe and some were crushed under the crowd’s weight.

Survivors have recounted the panic and fear they felt as they struggled to escape, treading on bodies and watching unconscious people lifted from the crowd as they went.

“It felt almost as if you were under an elevator and the elevator was coming down on you. And there was nothing you could do about it,” one attendee told ABC News.

The victims were aged between 27 and 14 years old.

Since the tragedy, rumours have run wild, covering everything from spiked needles to satanic worship, but crowd safety experts have said the deaths were likely the result of a danger that threatens all mass gatherings.

“When you get thousands of people packed into a small space, invariably what happens is you’ve got people at the front pressed up against a barrier to stop them from getting onto the stage,” Dr Aldo Raineri, an expert in public safety and behavioural risks at music festivals with the University of Central Queensland, told ABC News.

“People get wedged between the barrier and other people behind them to the point where they simply can’t move. And in fact, as appears to have happened here, they get literally crushed to death.”

Raineri said some performers “incite the crowd” and encourage them to rush the barriers; however, he has also seen bands show concern about the dangers of mass gatherings and ask the crowd to look out for each other, potentially avoiding such incidents.

“It is their [the performer’s] responsibility, both legally and morally as well,” he said.

Around 14 civil lawsuits have since been filed as a result of the incident, with 10 naming Scott as a defendant.

The music superstar has built a reputation for encouraging what he calls “rage” in his audiences, and was arrested in 2015 after police accused him of encouraging fans to jump over security barriers.

Many critics and witnesses have accused Scott of continuing his show, even though he could see bodies being passed out of the crowd.

Raineri said there are many measures events can put into place to prevent crowd surges, including installing big screens that show the stage, limiting the consumption of alcohol, controlling people in smaller spaces and crowd monitoring.

“Crowd monitoring is pretty important. You can monitor from above or use CCTV, and there are programs you can get now that look at density within bodies of people,” he said.

“Ever since the fatality at the Big Day Out, Australian promoters have been onto it.

“In Australia, some promoters are more conscious of safety — probably more so [than] in the US, which is still a little bit wild west.”

A woman named Jessica Michalik was killed during a similar incident at Limp Bizkit’s performance at Big Day Out in 2001, prompting the event to introduce increased safety measures including a ‘D-barrier’ to create space within the crowd.

Investigations into the Astroworld incident are ongoing.

Featured image source: iStock/krblokhin