Daegu Subway Fire - Daegu, South Korea
A mentally disturbed passenger set fire to a subway car in Daegu, South Korea, on the morning of February 18, 2003. The resulting fire engulfed two subway trains and filled the platform with dense smoke, resulting in 192 to 198 deaths and 148 injuries.
At 9:53 am on February 18, 2003, 56-year-old former taxi driver Kim Dae-Han walked onto Train 1079 of the Daegu Metropolitan Subway at Daegu Station, 300 km southeast of Seoul. He had suffered a stroke in 2001, resulting in behavioral changes. In his treatment he had expressed his wish to die, and to take others with him. Kim Dae-Han carried two cartons of a flammable liquid onto the train. Passengers attempted to stop him from lighting them, but a fire broke out as Train 1079 pulled into Jangangno Station in downtown Daegu.
Fire spread throughout all six cars of the subway within 2 minutes, aided by the interior’s flammable plastics and materials. Most of the occupants of Train 1079 escaped.
Train 1080, heading the opposite direction on Line 1, was advised of the fire as it pulled into Jangangno Station and 1.3 meters from the burning Train 1079. The doors opened, but immediately closed again. At this time fire control mechanisms in the station shut off power to the tracks, preventing Train 1080 from leaving. The train’s operator, Choi Sang-yeol, advised his passengers to sit while he waited for instructions. Minutes later, when his superiors told him to evacuate the train, Choi Sang-yeol left immediately and took the master key with him, keeping the passenger doors closed and locking 79 occupants inside, all of whom died.
1300 emergency personnel responded to the blaze, extinguishing the Daegu subway fire by 1:25 pm. Thick, poisonous smoke from burning plastics remained for another 3.5 hours. Victim identification was accomplished through DNA analysis, personal effects, and records of cell phone calls, since the fire’s intensity reduced most remains to bones or ash. The exact casualty count remains undetermined.