MALANG – Dicky Kurniawan felt the sharp sting in his eyes as Indonesian police fired tear gas into the football stadium.
From his seat near an exit, he said he watched the melee unfold Saturday night as angry fans poured into the field to demand answers after host Arema FC of East Java’s Malang city lost to Persebaya Surabaya, its first defeat ever on its home turf. The mob threw bottles and other objects, and the violence spread outside the stadium, where police cars were overturned and torched.
Kurniawan, 22, was shocked when police fired tear gas at spectators in the stands. As the stinging gas spread through the stadium, Kurniawan grabbed his girlfriend and — like everyone else — dashed to the exits.
The mass rush led to a stampede that killed nearly three dozen people almost instantly. The death toll reached 125 and hundreds more were injured in one of the world's deadliest tragedies at a sporting event. More than 40,000 spectators were at the match, all Arema fans because the organizer had banned Persebaya Surabaya supporters due to Indonesia’s history of violent soccer rivalries.
“The chaos was on the field, but they fired the tear gas into the stadium stands," Kurniawan said as he described the tragedy from his hospital bed. He received bruises on his face but said he was fortunate to survive.
“Now I am done watching soccer in the stadium,” Kurniawan said.
In the bed next to Kurniawan, teenager Farel Panji also had a lucky escape.
Panji, 16, had just left his seat to go to the exit when the tear gas came. As people ran past him to get to the exit, Panji said he got pushed down by the crowd and collapsed.
“I fainted for a while. When I woke up, I was still in the stadium seating area,” Panji said. He got home safely and was taken to the hospital the next day. Wearing an Arema jersey, Panji said Saturday’s incident did not stop him from loving the club.
Malang’s Dr. Saiful Anwar General Hospital, one of several used to treat victims, was filled Sunday with grieving relatives waiting to identify bodies in the morgue or for information about their loves ones.
Police say 323 people were injured in the crush, with some still in critical condition. At least 17 children were among the dead and seven other children are being treated at hospitals, according to the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection.
Arema's Chilean coach, Javier Roca, led the players and other officials in paying respect to the dead in a ceremony Monday.
Wearing black shirts, the team gathered at the statue of a lion head outside Kanjuruhan Stadium. Dozens of Arema supporters also attended, and started to cry when the players poured rose petals around the statue and prayed together.
“We came here as a team, asking forgiveness from the families impacted by this tragedy, those who lost their loves ones or the ones who are still being treated in the hospital,” Roca said.
He said soccer violence must stop.
“We feel like we got a punishment," he said. “One match result is not worth paying with the lives of people, let alone more than 100 people."