EXCLUSIVE: 'This is when it all got real': Firefighter log reveals deadly moments at Astroworld
HOUSTON – The entries are handwritten in a rushed scrawl and begin mundanely enough: "On location, setup" and "meet with (police) liaison."
But as the situation deteriorated last Friday at Astroworld Festival, entries in a Houston Fire Department Activity Log quickly turned from troubling – "Participants using bolt cutters to get in" – to harrowing – "Unconscious female in middle of crowd" – to deadly – "Reported cardiac in progress.”
Nine people died after being pulled from the crushing crowds and more than a dozen were ferried to nearby hospitals, marking one of the deadliest non-shooting music concerts in U.S. history.
The ninth casualty, Bharti Shahani, 22, a Texas A&M computer science student, was pronounced dead Wednesday evening at a Houston hospital after being kept alive on a ventilator. Her family held an emotional press conference on Thursday, describing a person who loved badminton and hoped to graduate and help the family clothing business.
Astroworld was her first music festival, which she attended with her sister, Namrata Shahani, 20. The sisters were holding hands when the crowds separated them and crushed Bharti.
"As a world, this is our responsibility to make sure that we get justice for this," Namrata Shahani said. "Things like this shouldn’t be happening."
The 11-page Houston Fire Department log, filled in manually by Houston Fire officials in a command center as events unfolded and obtained exclusively by USA TODAY, is one of the first official written reports to emerge of what took place during the fatal music festival, headlined by rapper Travis Scott.
It's also a dramatic telling of how the festival began with crowds rushing over barricades and escalated into further chaos and how police, paramedics and others responded to the growing crisis, as the crowds, estimated at more than 55,000, surged toward the stage at Scott's show.
"There was certainly a lack of control of the crowd," Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña said in an interview. "At the moment the crowd surged, it started to have an impact."
Last Friday was supposed to be the triumphant return of the Astroworld Festival, which started in 2018 but was postponed last year due to the pandemic. Houston-native Scott drew a legion of loyal fans to the event, where performers Drake, SZA, Roddy Rich and Don Toliver also took the stage.
The festival grounds, which included two stages, concession stands and carnival rides, were spread across the Yellow Lot surface parking lots of NRG Park, not far from where the Houston Texans host NFL games at NRG Stadium. A massive stage featuring a volcano spewing towers of flame awaited Scott as the final act of the night. His concerts are known to be high-energy and rowdy and some fans said they came expecting it.
Just before 7 a.m., officials from the Houston Fire Department hunkered down in a pop-up camper doubling as an incident command center outside the Astroworld gates in a far corner of the sprawling NRG Park grounds.
Inside, officials listened to radio chatter between Houston Police officers on the ground and used computer screens to monitor 911 calls coming into the city's emergency call center, according to fire officials. All significant events were recorded in the Activity Log.
Even before gates opened to the festival's first day, as crowds amassed outside security barriers, officials noted troubling events in the log.
At 8:15 a.m., a police lieutenant requested riot equipment, according to the document. An hour later, as officials prepared to open the gates to the public, "participants breached secondary checkpoint," it read.
Fire officials were documenting a morning rush past security later described by witnesses and caught on video. Concertgoers recounted standing in line early to buy merchandise as throngs of people overturned barricades and rushed to the vendors. Several people were injured in the melee and some were transported to hospitals, the log showed.
"I saw people earlier in the day jumping security gates and overwhelming security and police," said Ian James, 25, a Houston native who flew in from Los Angeles for the show. "It was crazy."
At least 10 times throughout the day, fire officials noted people attempting to sneak in or push past security to enter festival grounds. The log read: "participants have broken gate 13 in green lot" at 12:17 p.m., and, four hours later, approximately "150 (people)] rushing gate at Kirby and Westridge," streets bordering the festival.
By late afternoon, festival organizers estimated up to 5,000 additional people had snuck into the event, according to the log.
Just before 5 p.m., four hours before Scott emerged on the main stage, fire officials overhead Houston Police officers reporting a worrisome development at a smaller, secondary stage – and a harbinger of things to come.
"HPD reports of dangerous crowd conditions at Stage 2," they wrote.
By 8:52 p.m., just before Scott came out for his show, the company hired to provide medical response, New York-based ParaDocs Worldwide, had already treated 262 concertgoers, the log showed.
The worst was yet to come.
Scott took the massive main stage at around 9:15 p.m., and the crowd surged toward the front, crushing people wedged in between and causing concertgoers to fall and be trampled upon, according to witnesses on the scene.
Eli Mata, 20, of Richmond, California, traveled to Houston alone to watch the show. He came prepared with a CamelBack water pack and was near the front of the stage when the show began.
By the third song, he was helping carry unresponsive concertgoers to safety and pushing his way out of the crowd.
"I've been to different concerts; I knew what to expect," Mata said. "But as soon as he came out, the crowd just went wild."
Fire officials in the command center overhead on their shared radio lines frantic calls between police officers, as more unconscious bodies were pulled from the crowd and medics scrambled to revive them.
At 9:28 p.m., the incident commander commented on the intensifying emergency. A communications officer noted: "This is when it all got real."
Minutes later, calls erupted over the radio waves, one after another, describing an increasingly chaotic and potentially deadly scene, including "multiple people trampled, passed out at front of stage" and "multiple persons down in the crowd," according to the log.
At 9:35 p.m., fire officials monitoring the 911 system noticed five incoming calls related to unconscious persons in the crowd. Twenty minutes after that, a call was heard that shook the command center: "Reported cardiac in progress." Cardiac arrest, in which the heart stops beating, is one of the most serious conditions faced by first responders.
As medics from ParaDocs inside the concert struggled to treat injured attendees while avoiding being trampled themselves, Houston Fire officials, listening to radio chatter from their command center a mile away, felt the situation slipping out of their control, officials said.
The incident commander on duty ordered an "EMS Task Force," which mobilized fire department ambulances and paramedics to the scene. Within 18 minutes, that was upgraded to a "Mass Casualty Incident, Level 2," unleashing more medical help.
Houston Fire personnel met with on-site officials at a medical tent set up south of the main stage and joined the fight to revive unconscious concertgoers, officials said. At one point, medics performed CPR on 11 victims suffering cardiac failure. Only three survived.
By 11 p.m., 17 people had been transported to hospitals, including the eight dead, the log showed. Fire officials called off any other paramedics headed to the scene.
One of the deadliest U.S. concerts ever was over.
Follow Jervis on Twitter: @MrRJervis.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Deadly moments from Travis Scott Astroworld revelated in official log
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