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The upper deck area inside the Coyote Ugly nightclub in Gwangju collapsed at around 2am local time. Photo: AFP

2 dead, several athletes injured in South Korean nightclub collapse near World Aquatics Championships

  • Among the injured were athletes from the US, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Italy and Brazil. Those killed were both South Korean
  • They were hit by an upper deck area that may have been constructed illegally, with police confirming an investigation has been opened into the structure
South Korea
Two South Koreans died and several foreign athletes competing at the World Aquatics Championships were injured when part of a nightclub in the city of Gwangju collapsed early on Saturday.

Witnesses said there were around 370 people inside the Coyote Ugly nightclub near the athletes’ village when the floor of the upper deck above the bar gave way at about 2am local time.

A spokesman for the Gwangju Seobu Fire Station confirmed that two South Koreans had died. Among the injured were seven water polo players – three from the US, two from New Zealand, one from The Netherlands and one from Italy – as well as a Brazilian swimmer, Yonhap said.

Six of the injured were female athletes and three had to be taken to hospital for treatment. Their injuries ranged from bruising to cuts on their hands and feet.

“We were just dancing and then the next minute we dropped five to six metres and everyone started rushing out of the club after that,” said New Zealand men’s water polo team captain Matt Small.

“We ... fell on top of the heads of other people that were beneath us,” he told New Zealand’s Radio Sport. “Some of them were pretty dire cases,” he said of the injured.

A Gwangju police officer said two co-owners and two workers at the nightclub were being questioned about a possible illegal expansion and renovation, and the legality of its licensing process.

Workers inspect the collapsed internal structure at the nightclub in Gwangju. Photo: AP

Gwangju, about 330 km south of the capital Seoul, has been hosting the championships, which feature swimming, water polo and diving, over the past fortnight. The closing ceremony is expected to be held on Sunday.

Australian, New Zealand and US water polo officials confirmed team members were present when the incident occurred.

Water Polo Australia said some of its players were in the club but were unhurt.

“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,” it said a statement.

“All Australian players are safe and uninjured.”

Police stand guard at the door of the Coyote Ugly nightclub in Gwangju. Photo: AP

Christopher Ramsey, CEO of USA Water Polo, said it was “an awful tragedy”.

“Players from our men’s and women’s teams were celebrating the women’s world championship victory when the collapse occurred at a public club. Our hearts go out to the victims... and their families.”

Championship organiser FINA said it “deeply regrets the situation and sends its best wishes to any victims of this accident”.

“FINA is carefully monitoring the situation and will activate all measures to ensure health care and assistance is provided whenever necessary,” it said in a statement.

The good, bad and ugly sides to South Korea’s Jeju Island

Public safety has been a hot button issue in South Korea after the sinking of the Sewol ferry in 2014 which killed 304 people, most of them school children.
The administration of President Moon Jae-in has made the establishment of a national system for accident prevention and disaster management a priority. But there have been several major incidents since he came to power.

In December 2017, 29 people were killed and 40 were injured in a fire at a fitness centre in Jecheon city. A month later, 45 people died and 147 were injured in a fire in a hospital in Miryang.

Additional reporting by Reuters

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Two killed when bar floor collapses at athletes’ party