The captain of the Australian women’s water polo team has revealed the “scary” scenes that unfolded after the second floor of a South Korea nightclub collapsed underneath her, killing two people.
Rowie Webster confirmed she was one of the athletes who was standing on the second storey structure that fell while celebrating Australia’s bronze medal at the world aquatics championships in Gwangju.
The entire Australian women’s water polo team was at the club but emerged unscathed.
However, nine athletes were among the 17 injured when the flooring gave way and fell almost three metres at about 3am AEST on Saturday, killing two South Korean citizens.
Authorities believed about 100 people were standing on the structure when it gave way and plunged onto those below.
“Unfortunately I was one of the athletes that fell,” Webster said.
“The floor caved in from the middle. It was quite scary. I am just happy and grateful that we got out and pretty much unscathed.
“Obviously condolences to the families who have lost loved ones in that tragic event.”
Athletes from United States, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Italy and Brazil were treated for minor injuries but one competitor was admitted to hospital with a leg injury.
A statement from New Zealand Water Polo to the ABC read: “New Zealand players assisted and supported those directly affected, along with supporting Korea authorities.”
Webster said there were about 100 athletes among the estimated 370 people packed into the Gwangju nightclub when the structure fell.
“It is pretty chaotic in my mind but one of the structures fell through and it was all hands on deck from there – everyone was helping everyone,” she said.
“At the time you go into beast mode and try and get everyone out.
“I think it was fight or flight and we all kicked into gear pretty quickly.
“And everyone on the street were so supportive. Water was being passed around and things like that.
“We were extremely lucky. It was an unfortunate event but we are thankful we are not in more serious condition.”
The Korean Fire Department said two South Koreans died and 17 were injured, including four athletes from the United States, two from New Zealand and one each from the Netherlands, Italy and Brazil suffered minor injuries.
South Korean news agency Yonhap said a number of the victims underwent minor surgery.
“Water Polo Australia can confirm that members of the Australian women’s water polo team were celebrating their world championship bronze medal win at an establishment in Gwangju, South Korea last night when part of the balcony collapsed,” a Water Polo Australia statement said.
“All Australian players are safe and uninjured.”
Only hours earlier the Australian team posted on Twitter the “incredible feeling of coming away with a medal … there is absolutely no feeling like it”.
“That game was tough and Hungary did not make it easy for us,” Hannah Buckling posted in a video message to fans.
Hungary had locked up the scores at the end of the opening period to set the scene for a cliffhanger with Australia leading 7-6 at halftime before building a three-goal buffer in the final term.
— Water Polo Australia (@WaterpoloAus) July 26, 2019
The New Zealand water polo captain Matt Small told NZ sports radio network Radio Sport after the collapse that “there were people lying everywhere”.
Small said he and a few teammates had been enjoying themselves moments before the incident.
“We were just dancing and then the next minute we dropped 5m-6m and everyone started rushing out of the club after that.
“We, I guess, fell on top of the heads of other people that were beneath us.”
“Pretty crazy stuff, none of the boys were injured, everyone is pretty shaken.
“I was literally on the floor that collapsed, I was upstairs … and the one that collapsed was the one i was on.
He told Radio Sport a few of the men’s team tried to get some of the injured out from under the rubble.
“We did what we could but we couldn’t really do too much. Some of them were pretty dire cases. We were moreso concerned about everyone else and doing a number count.
“We were more so just concerned about everyone else, we were trying to do a number count and make sure all the boys were there.
“And everyone was fine – so pretty relieving stuff but at the same time pretty chilling.”
Small said the floor never felt stable, with too many people inside the venue. “There were lots of people there but we didn’t expect that to happen”.
Yonhap said about 100 people were on the second floor of the seven-storey nightclub and theatre complex when it collapsed.
It said more than 350 people were in the club at the time.
Gwangju police are investigating.