MALANG, INDONESIA (AFP) – As one of the deadliest disasters in the history of football unfolded before his eyes at an Indonesian stadium, photographer Adi Bowo Sucipto put his camera down and rushed to help.
After police fired tear gas into packed terraces triggering the crush that killed 131 people, fleeing spectators sought refuge in the stadium’s media centre.
A man was convulsing and gasping for air as Sucipto helped him into the centre. Like so many others who were trampled or suffocated in the crush on Saturday, the man died, he said.
“I was shocked. It was traumatic and I eventually stepped aside,” said the 43-year-old, who has worked as a photographer for more than a decade and was covering the match for a local news agency.
In the aftermath of witnessing the horrors at Kanjuruhan stadium, Sucipto now beats himself up, guilty that he didn’t run to the aid of others suffering that night.
“Why couldn’t I help more?” he asked, saying he now becomes emotional when he sees the Arema FC fans donning the home team’s jersey.
Around the stadium in the city of Malang, there were others who witnessed the tragedy unfold and rushed to the aid of those caught in the stampede.
Edy Tanto’s kiosk on the outer ring of Arema FC’s stadium was packed with fans without tickets watching the derby against fierce rivals Persebaya Surabaya before the final whistle.
As fans rushed to express their displeasure at the first home defeat in more than two decades to their adversaries from the biggest city in East Java, the tide turned.
Tanto said he saw people begin to pour out of the stadium when chaos erupted.
He rushed to provide water from his shop to victims whose eyes were stung with the tear gas, which witnesses said police had fired into the stands.
“I couldn’t think straight,” Tanto told AFP as he sat cross-legged on the floor of his shop.
“I just thought of helping them.”
Some grabbed water from his fridges in a panicked search for anything that could ease their stinging eyes.
“I didn’t think about the money. We also took pity on them as they walked in (to the shop) staggering and with short breath,” Tanto told AFP.
A similar scene played out on the other side of the stadium.
Another food stall vendor said she rushed to help the tear-gassed supporters who ran to her shop to find cover, while police officers did nothing.
A woman died on the floor of her kiosk, she said, and officers who were standing inside started to fan her with cardboard.
“I was emotional and I scolded the police – I don’t care about their ranks,” said the woman, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal from the authorities.
She said she told them, “You know the supporter was dead, why did you keep fanning her?”
When the surreal scene of officers fanning a lifeless body was unfolding, the kiosk owner told AFP she was massaging another woman who had fled the hail of tear gas to soothe her.
Accounts show these are just a few of the many stories of selflessness that took place in Malang on Saturday evening.
Men carried unconscious strangers to ambulances and supporters dragged their friends from the crush refusing to let go, saving their lives on a night when they were only supposed to be enjoying the match.
Like Sucipto, other photographers and video journalists working that night in the stadium stopped shooting to wrest fleeing football fans who were trapped in the human crush near an exit.
“It was a time to help as there were so many victims,” Sucipto said.