Deadly Astroworld Festival spiraled out of control for hours, Houston FD logs show
The signs of trouble were evident hours before the deadly crowd surge at the Astroworld Music Festival one week ago, according to Houston Fire Department logs.
Shortly after the 9 a.m. start of the November 5 festival, spectators had already breached the main gate, the handwritten logs obtained by CNN on Friday show.
At least eight more breaches would be reported throughout the day, with 3,000 to 5,000 concertgoers that were “not scanned” entering the venue by 5:05 p.m., according to the logs.
A crowd surge at the popular event would eventually lead to nine deaths, dozens of lawsuits and a slew of still unanswered questions about what went wrong.
The logs paint a disturbing picture of a chaotic situation that grew worse by the hour. Ambulances transported a handful of injured concertgoers to the hospital that morning and afternoon.
Shortly before 5 p.m the Houston Police Department reported “dangerous crowd conditions” at one stage.
Eight minutes before headliner and festival organizer Travis Scott took the stage at 9 p.m., more than 260 people had already been treated, according to the logs, which did not specify the type of treatment. A 9:18 p.m. entry noted a “crush injury.”
Less than half an hour into Scott’s performance, the log states: “This is when it all got real.”
Police reported “multiple people trampled, passed out at front of stage” at 9:33 p.m. Minutes later, a police operator reported five 911 calls about “unconscious persons in crowd. Report of possible CPR.”
A “Level One MCI” — mass casualty incident — was reported at 9:52 p.m., according to the logs.
From 10 p.m. to about 11:40 p.m., 17 people had been transported to hospitals, including at least six people in cardiac arrest.
Lawyer says Scott did not know of MCI declaration
Scott did not know of the mass casualty declaration until the following morning, his lawyer said Friday.
“That never got to Travis, that never got to Travis’s crew,” attorney Ed McPherson told ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
“He’s up there trying to perform. He does not have any ability to know what’s going on down below.”
The tragedy has generated more than 90 civil suits in Harris County District Court as of Friday, demanding accountability from city officials, concert organizers and performers at a sold-out concert attended by about 50,000.
Attorney Ben Crump said his firm and a coalition of Houston lawyers are representing more than 200 victims.
“Nobody should ever die from going to a concert,” Crump said Friday.
Attorney Alex Hilliard, speaking at a news conference alongside victims and Crump, said festival “organizers, risk directors and security personnel” failed to protect the thousands of concertgoers. Medical staff at the venue was “egregiously short staffed,” he said.
Uniqua Smith, 34, a concertgoer who is part of the litigation, told reporters that a woman near her collapsed after appearing to have a seizure.
“I’m looking around for the paramedics,” she said. “I don’t see anyone responding.”
Smith said she had tried to make her way out of the venue since about 9:45 p.m. Friday but got “caught in the madness” until 2:45 a.m. When she finally made it out, Smith said, she fainted.
‘There’s not a lot we can do’
Police radio calls that night also reflected the chaos.
At least one police officer reported the main stage compromised about 9:11 p.m., the Houston Chronicle reported Thursday, citing emergency radio chatter.
The audio included reports of breached barricades, people jumping gates, and breathing and cardiac problems, the newspaper reported. The radio chatter continued until 10:15 p.m., the Chronicle reported.
“There’s not a lot we can do,” one official said, adding that the breach was confined to one section, according to the report. “Stand by for now. We’ll have to wait, but the concert management will let us know.”
CNN has reached out to the Houston Police Department for comment.
It is unclear what Scott saw from the stage and whether he was aware of the crowd conditions, but he continued to perform until about 10:10 p.m. That was after officials declared the concert a “mass casualty event,” according to Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña last Saturday.
Scott was “on a riser at one point and he sees one boy down… stops the show, [and] he asked security to get to that person,” McPherson told ABC.
“Understand that when he’s up on the stage, and he has flash pots going off around him and he has an ear monitor that has music blasting through it and his own voice — he can’t hear anything, he can’t see anything,” McPherson added.
Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said this week the “ultimate authority to end a show (was) with production and the entertainer, and that should be through communication with public safety officials.”
“We don’t hold the plug,” he said.
‘There obviously was a systemic breakdown’
McPherson said Scott did not know the full scope of what had occurred until the next morning. Asked how much responsibility Scott bears for the fatalities, the attorney said, “That’s what the investigations are about.”
“That’s what we’re trying to get to the bottom of… who was responsible,” McPherson told the network. “There obviously was a systemic breakdown that we really need to get to the bottom of before we start pointing fingers at anyone.”
Audience members described an unruly crowd surge on November 5 that pulled them into what felt like a “death trap,” leaving many struggling to breathe. Some concertgoers were left administering CPR on those who passed out.
A 22-year-old college student died Wednesday, becoming the ninth victim. The ages of those who died range from 14 to 27. In addition, a 9-year-old boy who was seriously injured is in a medically induced coma.
The question of safety measures at the event has been a focal point over the past week, leading to criticism from concertgoers and others.
“Everybody in that venue, starting from the artist on down, has a responsibility for public safety,” Peña told CNN earlier this week.
Scott has maintained he did not know what was happening in the crowd during his set — disputing city officials’ account of his responsibility in the deadly surge.
McPherson, in a statement Wednesday, blasted Houston city officials for what he said was “finger-pointing” and “inconsistent messages.”
Scott said he was devastated by what happened and said he will cover all funeral costs for the victims.
Operations plan laid out chain of command
Multiple concertgoers told CNN that the crowd surge happened after Scott took the stage.
Jeffrey Schmidt said he and his friend tried to escape when breathing became more challenging.
“Little did we know, all hell was about to break loose. People started to pass out and fall to the ground,” Schmidt told CNN.
First responders began to hear of crowd injuries around 9:30 p.m., and the show continued for another 40 minutes, authorities said. And when questions emerged about why the show wasn’t stopped, officials said that it was not in their power.
Finner has said the investigation revealed that police personnel told the production team that CPR was underway on at least one individual and to stop the show. Finner did not specify who the production team is or the timing of the notifications.
Firefighters who were stationed outside the venue were not in radio communications with the emergency medical providers hired by the concert organizers as the situation unfolded, said Patrick M. “Marty” Lancton, president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association.
Lancton added firefighters were instead given phone numbers, which are not a reliable communication method during emergencies, given potential signal weakness during events involving large gatherings.
A 56-page operations plan for the concert was obtained by CNN this week, showing a clear chain of command in case of an incident.
The plan identifies the role of the executive producer as well as the festival director as the only people with the authority to stop the concert. The document CNN obtained is marked Version: 0.1, and it is unclear whether it was the final version of the plan and when it was drafted.
McPherson said neither the festival director nor executive producers are part of the rapper’s crew.
McPherson pointed to Finner’s comments on Saturday that authorities had concerns about stopping the show early due to potential rioting.
Authorities have said it could take weeks for the medical examiner to determine the causes of death.
Bharti Shahani, a 22-year-old Texas A&M University student, died Wednesday night after being ventilator in critical condition for days, attorney James Lassiter said.
Shahani’s family told reporters Thursday that it was her wish to donate her organs.
The organ donation process was underway, according to Michele Arnold, spokeswoman for the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences.
“This was her first music festival, our first music festival,” said Namrata Shahani, Bharti’s younger sister.
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