Four US athletes injured in fatal South Korean nightclub accident
By RICK MAESE | The Washington Post | Published: July 27, 2019
GWANGJU, South Korea — Athletes competing in the FINA world championships were dancing at a nightclub early Saturday morning when an interior structure collapsed, reportedly killing two people and injuring more than a dozen others.
Four members of the U.S. national water polo teams were among those injured in the late-night accident. Kaleigh Gilchrist, 27, suffered a serious laceration on her leg and underwent surgery Saturday in a hospital, according to USA Water Polo. The Newport Beach, California, native was a member of the American squad that won gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics and was part of the team that won a third straight world title on Friday, visiting the Gwangju nightclub later that night to celebrate.
Three other American water polo athletes also suffered injuries when a second-floor interior balcony collapsed inside the club: Paige Hauschild, a 19-year-old University of Southern California student, required stitches for lacerations on her right arm; Johnny Hooper, a 22-year-old from Los Angeles, required stitches on his left hand; and 21-year-old Ben Hallock, who was a member of the U.S. team at the 2016 Olympics, suffered minor scraped on his legs.
Two South Koreans reportedly died when the balcony collapsed inside the club around 2:30 a.m., according to the BBC. Neither was an athlete. Media reports have confirmed that water polo athletes from the United States, Australia and New Zealand were among those at the nightclub.
A spokesperson for the committee that's staging these championships said eight athletes were involved in the accident, seven of whom suffered minor injuries.
A spokesman for USA Water Polo initially declined to comment on any injuries out of "respect to athlete privacy" but confirmed the injuries later Saturday. All of the American water polo athletes "are safe and accounted for," the organization said in a statement. The U.S. women's team concluded its tournament Friday, winning the world title over Spain.
"This is an awful tragedy," Christopher Ramsey, CEO of USA Water Polo, said in a statement. "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 of the crash and their families."
A USA Swimming spokeswoman said no American swimmers were present at the club Friday night.
FINA, the international governing body for aquatic sports, said in a statement Saturday, "As some Championships' participants were present at the moment of the accident, FINA is carefully monitoring the situation and will activate all measures to ensure health care and assistance is provided whenever necessary."
The nightclub is located near the Athletes' Village, a recently constructed area that features two dozen high-rise buildings housing 4,000 athletes and officials during this month's championships, which has brought the world's best swimmers, divers, water polo athletes and synchronized swimmers to Gwangju. The BBC reported that about 370 people were inside the club when an interior balcony and staircase collapsed.
"We were just dancing, and then the next minute we dropped five to six meters, and everyone started rushing out of the club after that," New Zealand water polo captain Matt Small told the New Zealand Herald.
"[It was] business as usual, and then it literally collapsed beneath our feet," he said.
Small said the interior balcony appeared to crash down on other people, pinning and crushing some of the late-night revelers.
"We did what we could, but we couldn't really do too much," Small said. "Some of them were pretty dire cases."