Please be advised that this article contains reporting that some people may find disturbing.
Enshrined behind the gates that claimed so many lives at the Kanjuruhan Stadium is a chilling sight. Once they catch your eye, everything changes.
The shoes, left by the dead.
They sit alongside the twisted, contorted blue iron railings which have been forced from their concrete mountings. Walking in those shoes — the Adidas trainer, the flip-flop, the child’s red Croc — during those final moments came with fear, indescribable pain and, for so many, no way out.
“Open, open, open. Bring small children, bring small children,” was one of the panicked shouts heard on October 1 in those crowded stairwells as desperation took hold. Some were carried to safety. But many weren’t as one of the worst stadium disasters of all time, which claimed the lives of more than 130 people, took hold.
“The one who actually loves the football is my son Virdy,” his mother Elmiati tells The Athletic sat at her home in Malang. “I’ve only been to three games and I’ve watched games with my son. He loves the crowds and also to dance, just like he does in that video when he was in stands… I’m so glad I got the chance to get that video.”
Held aloft on his father Rudi Hariyanto’s shoulders, three-year-old Virdy Prayoga raises his Arema scarf and smiles as the crowd sing ahead of the game. It’s an image of a treat, before the terror.
“All we were worried about before the game was pickpockets, but that’s just normal,” says Elmiati, whose elder daughter stayed at home. “Because there wasn’t going to be any Persebaya Surabaya fans (Arema’s great rivals), we didn’t think it would turn into a riot, that’s why we were looking forward to going all together. But when the match ended, fans went onto the field, and then came the tragedy, especially after the tear gas was shot everywhere.
“My husband told me it’s time to go back home, so we rushed to get out,” she explains. Elmiati, Virdy and Rudi headed for gate 13. “But there were so many others trying to do the same. There were so many fans coming forward from behind and above pushing. They are pushing because they were trying to save their own lives. Someone lifted me up and dragged me out. So I went to the stands, not knowing where they were or what had happened. I got separated from my husband and son.”
They’d be torn from Elmiati’s life forever. “I can’t accept it that they left for the game all healthy and well, how come they come home lifeless,” she says.
Both Rudi and Virdy died in the crush at gate 13, one of many exits that were either closed, opened too late or only partially open when the game ended. With no one on the other side who knew them, Rudi and Virdy were taken to two separate hospitals. “I exploded at the morgue because I couldn’t bear to see my son’s body,” says Elmiati.
She held him close. That’s all she could do now. Father and son were reunited and buried at eight o’clock the next morning close to home.
Devi Athok and Andi Hariyanto lost their two daughters and their wives in the crush. Athok described the scene in the stadium as being like a massacre. Hariyanto — who also lost his cousin — says he’ll never watch football again, and will devote his life to looking after his two-year-old son.
Among the other young casualties were Revano Prasetyo and Gabrielle Fenindra Yuda Putra (below) who were youth-team players at Indonesian third-division side Gestra Paranane. Both supported Arema.
At least 30 children — between the ages of three and 17 — were killed at Kanjuruhan. It is a tragedy that has snuffed out so much hope for the future.
“The first thing I did was hold his legs and they were like stone, so hard,” Bandi tells The Athletic. “I then held his hand, there was no pulse. I touched his chest, there was no breath, but he was still warm. I lifted the blanket from his face and it was blue and he was drooling with saliva. I placed the blanket back over him.”
That was the first dead body that Bandi cared for on October 1. It wasn’t the last. Bandi isn’t from the emergency services, he is just a fan and he isn’t using his real name in this piece for fear of being identified by the local authorities.
“When I arrived in the room there were corpses everywhere,” he says, describing a haunting scene. “People were breathing their last breaths, you could see. All around the room, all I could hear was ‘Inna Lillahi wa inna Ilaihi Rajiun’ (‘We belong to Allah and to Him shall we return’, a traditional Muslim prayer said when someone dies).
“One person would say it because they could see someone was fading. Then almost immediately, someone else would say it for another person. Then the next one, and the next one. They were going together. It was crushing. Even now when I close my eyes I see that image of people dying all around me and that noise.”
Bandi had previously carried a child to safety through gate nine. At gate 10, he witnessed the brutal and graphic reality of those who didn’t make it.
“When the door was opened there were around five people stacked up on top of each other, one girl held her hand out to my friend. She was still alive,” he explains. “Lower down, one of the men was dead, his neck was broken and there was blood everywhere.”
“The woman keeps saying, ‘Please help me, please help me’, and we dragged her to the room I’d been in, but unfortunately when we got there, it was over, she didn’t make it.”
Bandi, who’d been to see his beloved Arema, was now immersed in an aftermath akin to a warzone.
“Some of the corpses that I’d seen inside were transported to hospital not using an ambulance, but a police truck,” he gestures with his hand higher and higher showing layers. “They were stacked, piled. You know the one thing that I’m not sure about? I’m afraid people hadn’t died yet, and they kept being put in the truck.”
The official death toll of the Kanjuruhan Stadium disaster stands at 131, but as one medical professional advised The Athletic in private, “this is an open disaster”. The premise: we’ll never know the exact number of casualties. Some fans arrived at the game in cars, died in the stampede and crush, were cradled by loved ones on grass verges outside the stadium, then taken home to be buried in the surrounding towns and villages of this mountainous, verdant land. As such, their deaths won’t be in the official records.
Malang is a vibrant, colourful, kind city. With its sub-tropical, hot and humid climate that sees deluge rainfall at times, it features brightly-coloured houses, paddy rice fields rarely out of view and the constant buzz of mopeds.
Now it is in mourning.
In the nights following the disaster, Arema fans, dressed in black, congregated outside the town hall for a candlelight vigil as they searched for comfort. Muslim prayer, renditions of club anthems and solemn reflections helped to soothe for a few hours at least. On Wednesday evening, the busy town-hall roundabout ground to a halt, mopeds were parked and people paused for reflection.
“That night was really terrifying and filled with unfathomable grief that should not happen in a football world because the supporter wants to watch peacefully, but something unthinkable has befallen us,” Ali Rifki, Arema’s team manager, tells The Athletic. “I came because I wanted to be with the Aremania (the name given to the fans), blend together and to feel our sorrow together. I’m really thankful and moved.”
At the stadium, on the night of the tragedy, Arema players cared for the dead and dying in their own changing room as the disaster spilled into the inner sanctum of the VIP area. There’s a memorial at the stadium now, where the distinctive smell of flower petals are scattered under the statue of the club’s lion figurehead and also at the gates that turned a night of enjoyment into hell.
What happened in one of the worst stadium disasters on record was a cascade of errors. Some fans played a small part, but it seems the escalation was nothing to do with them, and more to do with the heavy-handed and hapless nature of how the match was mismanaged by the authorities.
Arema — coached by Chilean Javier Roca, who is known to have been hit hard by the tragedy — last won the league 12 years ago and are known as “Singo Edan” or “The Mad Lions” in Javanese.
In the week building up to the game, there was a deep unease among police about the fixture. Some of the sting had been taken out of the meeting with rivals Persebaya Surabaya with away fans not permitted. The teams’ rivalry intensified in 1995 when Arema fans attacked the Persebaya team bus and shattered glass, blinding gifted player Kisa Pilu Nurkiman in one eye, who had to retire.
The police say they were acting on intelligence in asking the league to move the kick-off earlier from 8pm to 3.30pm. The league’s president Akhmad Lukita declined the request and wanted it to be played at prime time instead. It meant the police went into the game on the back foot.
Arema’s 3-2 defeat — the first time Surabaya had won at their ground in 23 years — was the worst possible result, but needn’t have contributed to a situation that became out of control.
The initial pitch invasion when the game finished at 9.40pm was small. But then came a larger influx. More Arema fans — who often try to get on the field after games — let their frustrations be known. Home goalkeeper Adilson had to be protected by police using riot shields and batons.
Once the players made it inside the tunnel, the combined forces of the army, police and special forces unit Korps Brigade Mobile (Brimob) wanted to move fans back into the stands (known as tribunes). It worked at first, but dog units were also deployed.
Meanwhile, in the stands it became apparent to some fans who left that some of the doors had inexplicably not been opened or only opened partially by guards detailed on the doors. Usually, they’re opened five minutes before the end of games.
When fans on the pitch didn’t fully retreat, the first phase of tear gas was deployed by Brimob officers in multiple locations on the field (as shown in the video above), and that initially drove many fans to the north end of the stadium. Gas canisters, often with secondary explosions built in, were then fired directly into the tribunes. This was towards busy areas where fans who had not invaded the pitch were still located.
The use of tear gas — which is against FIFA rules within stadiums — was the gear change that ultimately led to the authorities losing control. One video seen by The Athletic shows the moment a tribune was targeted and there was a clear illustration of the knock-on effect of that decision. Fans charge away from the epicentre of the explosion, some to the left towards exit six, but more to the right and exit seven.
The surge into exit seven led to railings buckling under the weight of human traffic, and this was reflected around the stadium where there was additional internal damage at six other exits. “The south got the most severe actions from the police,” says Adi who was at the game. “Us on the north side were only shot once each at most, the south side was bombarded by the tear gas — that’s why the casualties were greater on that side.”
Fans had severe difficulty getting out of gates 10, 11, 12 and 13 — the latter is where Virdy, Rudi and countless others died due to the crush.
The Athletic filmed footage at gate 13 (and many others) to illustrate the damage done to the stairwell and exit gate and, tellingly, the wall alongside which fans broke through. It is not possible to fully verify exactly how long the gate (or others) remained closed until CCTV is released, but it’s known from various eyewitness testimonies that gates 13, 12 and 11 weren’t opened on time.
Yoyo says he could see the escalation unfolding but the police, who have not responded to any of The Athletic’s questions about the disaster, didn’t listen.
“I heard that there was a small child screaming for help, crying, and many mothers crying asking for help because their children were also struck by the effects of the tear gas,” he says. “I had no intention of entering the field, but I wanted to try to do something to stop what was happening. I first shook hands with the police and told them to stop because the women and children were in trouble.”
Yoyo supplied footage of the incident to The Athletic.
“After that, another policeman came to yell at me, I was told to leave but then I got attacked by another policeman. Why did they attack me? I don’t know how many police officers attacked me, but I just tried to protect my head.”
National Police Chief Listyo Sigit Prabowo confirmed some gates weren’t fully opened for almost 20 minutes after the end of the game. “Exit gates should have been opened five minutes before the match ended. In addition, guards or stewards were nowhere in sight when the incident broke,” he said.
Cafes and shops are built into the underside of the tribunes outside the stadium. Nanang Efendy (below) runs the shop outside gate 10. “Here was open but only a little door,” he tells The Athletic stood outside the gate as he cleans up. “But 13 was closed, 12 and 11 were only half-open, so casualties started to be taken from 13, 12, 11 and they were brought out here. Alive and dead. Here (he points to the tiled floor to his left and right of his cafe), many people. I don’t know how they must… I can’t talk any more.”
“I don’t know who they are but many people died in my shop. We tried to save them. We sent six to hospital but only one survived. On Monday I came into the shop for the first time and I tried to clean it up but all I was hearing in my mind was them still running and screaming, I couldn’t handle it so I went home.”
Nanang became acutely aware of the lack of ambulances and medical professionals tending to the injured and dying in the area where he was. “There is only one road in and there were traffic jams, so they weren’t coming here,” he says. “We tried to find some cars, we say to people if they have a car, let’s take those who have died to the hospital first and I was focused here.”
Amid the chaotic scenes outside the stadium, police prioritised getting the Persebaya Surabaya squad out of the ground in two armoured vehicles as quickly as possible, but there were obvious delays due to the chaos. Some fans, angered by how they had been treated, vandalised and tipped a police car over near to the pitch. Two eyewitnesses say that, by this point, dogs from the K9 unit were running free in the stadium. One person is known to have been bitten on the upper torso, while another fan rescued a dog that had been left in distress.
For a considerable amount of time there were only three ambulances on site supplied by the Wava Husada hospital, who have a medical partnership with Arema. “Most of our health personnel were in the medical room to help with people who were brought there,” Isabella Angelin, head of the hospital’s emergency department unit, says. “There was also a limited amount we could do because of the limited amounts of equipment and medicine. We only had four cylinders of oxygen.”
The closest hospital to the stadium is RSUD Kanjuruhan. “I had a report from my emergency call centre. They sent me photos of victims at the scene,” the hospital’s director Bobi Prabowo explains. “It wasn’t clear if they were alive or dead. Then I prepared the emergency room for maximum capacity. I put a command to all the ambulances to report to me and six ambulances were put on standby. Because there weren’t any cars allowed near the stadium and there was said to be violence, I waited for information from the local police. By 12.30am we were told by the police we could go.”
The first reports of fans being in danger surfaced in between 10pm and 10.30pm. It meant two hours passed before ambulances from the closest hospital were allowed to access the site. Other ambulances from private hospitals had issues accessing the large stadium campus.
“This is about the disaster preparedness,” says Prabowo. “Three months ago we practised the emergency preparedness with healthcare and police in the Malang area about communication, how to prepare ambulances, how to activate the emergency response. In the future we hope the response is standardised, because the safety of people, access points and coordination inside the stadium were very poor.”
Angelin, from Wava Husada, three miles from the stadium, says the issues stemmed from how the fans were managed by the authorities: “I think the crowd control (was key),” she says. “Because at the beginning we can’t deny the supporters started going on the field. But I think maybe there are other ways to mitigate the crowd.”
42,000 fans went to Kanjuruhan Stadium and, while many tragically never came home, others escaped such as Ahmed Hadi Mulyo, who The Athletic visited at RSUD hospital. He is recovering from a broken leg.
“He was helping his friend who had passed out when he was hit by tear gas and had been trampled on,” his mother Ruliani, who has stayed by his bedside ever since explains. “He saw his friend had fainted so he tried to save him from being stepped on further but my son forgot his own safety.”
It meant scaling the perimeter fence. “His feet got caught and his head was below and he was hanging for around five to 10 minutes,” says Ruliani. “He fell and then needed his friend to help him because he was in such pain. Thank God his friend started to wake up, he’d been crushed and then stepped on by the other person. They’d joined a group of ten at the game, only nine came home but it could have been less. Many people have been traumatised by this. I’m thankful he made it, but I’m heartbroken too. We must take a lesson from this.”
Much like the scenes on the tiled floors and grass verges outside the gates of the stadium and the VIP section in the main stand at Kanjuruhan, the rooms, corridors and receptions of Malang’s hospitals were cleared for victims of the disaster.
“The initial wave was about 20 people or so,” Angelin (below) at Wava Husada explains. “Maybe two or three of them died, but the peak of the victims was about 12 to 1am, when about 100 victims were treated here. It was disaster triage. For the people that had already died or were in a very critical condition, we put them in a room and we put some ID on them and took a picture of them for when their families were looking for them later. I can only describe it as very chaotic because a lot of people died that were brought here.”
“We can’t be certain of their cause of death as there were a lot of bodies and very few doctors that night, so we can’t do extensive examination,” she says. “Many of them were hypoxic, from panic, the tear gas, the rushing to the gates, and very close together in a small space — all of those factors contribute. For those still alive, we provided basic first aid, with an IV line and oxygen and put bandages and splints on broken limbs. Then in the morning, a lot more ambulances from the health office came to help so the people with severe injuries could be diverted to other hospitals.”
In total, 53 deaths were processed at Wava Husada. Fifteen weren’t able to be identified so were sent to another large hospital RSSA, where a further 59 deaths were confirmed in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.
“If we’re talking about emotions, I can’t speak,” Malang mayor Sutiaji says. He pauses to gather his composure as he speaks to The Athletic at the crisis centre that was set up in the aftermath of the disaster in the grounds of the town hall. “As a resident of Malang City, I’m not accepting it being seen as a riot by football goers. There’s only regret and tears after seeing the victims. I can see how hard it is for the grieving families, who only ask for a justice.”
What shape that justice takes is in the hands of the government. The laser-guided precision of president Joko Widodo’s arrival at Karujuhan on Wednesday in an entourage of more than 40 vehicles with legions of police, army and Brimob personnel was a stark reminder that when things really need to be done properly, they can be.
Now ‘Jokowi’ is promising significant change with the league suspended and subject to an independent review, with all stadiums in the country’s three leagues audited. He asked: “Are the gates, according to standards, wide enough? Are the gates sized according to field management standards and who is in control?”
“From this incident we have to fix everything, match management, field management, stadium management, we have to evaluate everything. I don’t want this incident to happen again in our country.”
The overarching aim, especially with Indonesia set to host FIFA’s Under-20 World Cup next year, is to show that the country is in control and reacting to the shock with swift action. Whether it is meaningful will only become clear in time.
The Indonesian league banned Arema from hosting matches with fans or playing within 250 kilometres of their current home, in addition to being fined 250,000,000 IR (around £15,000). The club’s match organising chair and head of security were also banned from football for life.
Meanwhile, the police announced six leading suspects — including the league’s president Lukita and key heads of Malang police and Brimob — who they feel contributed significantly to the catastrophic failures at Kanjuruhan. Lower-ranking officials and a large number of serving officers were also questioned, with some suspended pending further action.
Victims were told by the government they would receive 50 million Indonesian Rupiah (just under £3,000 in compensation) for their loss and given a relief fund. When The Athletic visited the home of Elmiati on Wednesday she’d also been provided with some large bags of rice, noodles and other food supplies.
“The decision to provide compensation will not absolve anyone of their responsibility,” Amnesty International’s deputy director Wirya Adiwena tells The Athletic. “Judicial process and investigations that are open, fair and transparent are vital. After we have decided who is responsible, then the victims are entitled to reparations. What anyone gives at this time does not count, and that should not stop judicial procedures. If there is any information of providing financial obstructs then foul play should be considered.”
The human rights body have launched a report about the decline of civil liberties in Indonesia. Adiwena continues: “The president or other people should not go ahead (or conclude) the investigations to say what has gone wrong. To do so raises more questions than answers. If the result of this incident doesn’t change any procedures at a time when police have been ushered to use excessive force it shows how those in authority are judging the incidents, truly as a tragedy or something they should handle like a PR stunt.”
The graffiti sprayed onto the walls of the stadium leaves little to the imagination about the thoughts of many fans at their treatment by the police. The acronym ACAB stands for All Cops Are Bastards.
“We will check whether the police force are right or wrong,” Albertus Wahyurudhanto — the head of Indonesia’s Independent National Police Commission — tells The Athletic. “We look for any misconduct that causes negative action, like making the crowd very uncontrolled and a result of many people dying. We must check the process involved and the police must make sure everyone is safe. We must learn from this incident and any regulation for safety in the match, we must refresh the way things are organised.”
Collection boxes held by locals in the middle of the bustling streets of Malang ask for donations for those who have lost loved ones in the disaster, but they deserve more than that. “We need justice for our citizens to be relieved from the tragedy and the grieving families know the government needs to be there for them,” says mayor Sutiaji.
“The souls of 131 were lost in minutes, not even hours. They’ve disappeared. The country needs to serve justice, so we can feel we are in a country where the law stands tall, we are protected, so this could be a lesson for anyone in the future.”
(Top image: Eamonn Dalton)
- Children went to a football match and didn’t come home. The story of the Kanjuruhan Stadium tragedy
- Check all news and articles from the latest Soccer updates.