Falls blast over exit strat­egy

Sunday Herald Sun - - Front Page - CASSIE ZERVOS, PA­TRICK KEAM AND AN­THONY GAL­LOWAY

FALLS Fes­ti­val or­gan­is­ers cre­ated “bot­tle­neck” ex­its at a ma­jor stage that led to a dan­ger­ous stam­pede on Fri­day night where crushed rev­ellers feared they would be killed.

Author­i­ties will in­ves­ti­gate the de­ci­sion to this year to erect a fixed bar­rier around the Grand The­atre mar­quee for the first time, leav­ing only three nar­row ex­its.

WorkSafe Vic­to­ria of­fi­cials con­ducted an ur­gent re­view of the site yes­ter­day, or­der­ing staff to pull down part of the bar­rier to cre­ate a far big­ger exit for fans last night.

It is un­der­stood that in pre­vi­ous years wider ex­its were used and the plas­tic bar­rier around the tent was not fixed, mean­ing fes­ti­val-go­ers could duck un­der it.

More than 80 peo­ple needed med­i­cal treat­ment af­ter the crush, with in­juries in­clud­ing bro­ken legs and an­kles and a po­ten­tial spinal in­jury.

Vic­tim Olivia Jones, 19, said: “I had thoughts that this could be my last breath as ev­ery breath was get­ting harder and harder, as if my lungs were shrink­ing.”

Cre­ative In­dus­tries Min­is­ter Martin Fo­ley called the stam­pede “un­ac­cept­able” and “very, very dan­ger­ous”.

Fes­ti­val or­gan­is­ers did not an­swer ques­tions put to them by the Sun­day

Her­ald Sun yes­ter­day.

Mr Fo­ley said: “WorkSafe has in­ves­ti­gated and worked with Falls Fes­ti­val man­age­ment. They’ve made some im­me­di­ate re­quire­ments for change to make sure that there is no re­peat.

“We want to thank our paramedics, am­bu­lance staff and our hard­work­ing med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als for mak­ing sure those young peo­ple re­ceived the best med­i­cal treat­ment.”

The lack of phone cov­er­age at the site was also high­lighted, with wor­ried par­ents un­able to con­tact chil­dren.

Mr Fo­ley added: “One of the ben­e­fits of the Falls Fes­ti­val is its beau­ti­ful lo­ca­tion, but that also means com­mu­nica- tions, as we’ve seen in the last day, is a bit of an is­sue. This is clearly an is­sue WorkSafe will work on with the or­gan­is­ers.”

Vic­tims of Fri­day night’s chaotic scenes were car­ried out by friends, with some wit­nesses re­port­ing bro­ken bones stick­ing out of legs.

The crush oc­curred as fans hur­ried from the end of pop­u­lar lo­cal act DMA’s set in the Grand The­atre mar­quee to watch Bri­tish head­lin­ers Lon­don Gram­mar on the Val­ley Stage, just be­fore 10pm.

Six men and 13 women were taken to hos­pi­tal with lower leg frac­tures, pelvic frac­tures and cuts and bruises.

It is un­der­stood ques­tions will be raised about sched­ul­ing a pop­u­lar lo­cal act to fin­ish at the same time as the in­ter­na­tional head­lin­ers were set to start. But the de­ci­sion to close off most of the big tent — partly due to the con­struc­tion of a new bar along­side — has prompted the most crit­i­cism.

Fes­ti­val-go­ers re­ported see­ing fel­low fans un­con­scious “un­derneath stacks of peo­ple”.

Falls or­gan­is­ers did not hold a press con­fer­ence yes­ter­day and did not an­swer ques­tions from the Sun­day Her­ald Sun as to why the tent was left with three nar­row ex­its.

In a state­ment, they said: “In re­sponse to last night’s in­ci­dent we have con­sid­ered the egress into and out of the Grand The­atre and made some mod­i­fi­ca­tions to to­day’s event.”

The fes­ti­val Face­book page said a “large sec­tion of the side of the tent” was yes­ter­day re­moved “to al­le­vi­ate con­cerns”.

Fans slammed the de­ci­sion to have a fixed bar­rier at all.

“Con­cerns? It’s not just anx­i­ety or con­cerns, it’s the re­al­ity of cre­at­ing a safe venue. Stop min­imis­ing. Truly poor form,” one Face­book user said. “A bit like putting on the seat­belt af­ter the car has crashed,” an­other posted.

The Falls Fes­ti­val was es­tab­lished in Lorne in 1993 and has since ex­panded to Tas­ma­nia, By­ron Bay and Fre­man­tle. It emerged yes­ter­day that three girls were sex­u­ally as­saulted at the con­cur­rent Tas­ma­nian ver­sion of Falls Fes­ti­val. The as­saults oc­curred on Thurs­day and Fri­day.

Or­gan­is­ers have since put on ex­tra se­cu­rity at the Tas­ma­nian event, and po­lice are ap­peal­ing for wit­nesses.

Olivia Jones re­cov­ers at home yes­ter­day.

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