Michelle Natalie, Zaky Pawas & Ivan Dasa Saputra
Dozens of people suffered minor injuries as many hundreds of impatient BlackBerry fans broke through a barricade to get their hands on the latest smartphone during a discount promotion in a Jakarta mall on Friday.
As the crowd swelling to well in excess of a thousand people — a number of whom had been queuing since the previous day — rumors began circulating on Friday morning that the BlackBerry Bellagio, also known as a BlackBerry Bold 9790, had sold out during the event at Pacific Place mall in South Jakarta.
This and impatience and frustration caused the crowd to surge forward through a protective barrier.
Sr. Comr. Imam Sugianto, the South Jakarta Police chief, said that in the ensuing crush, at least 90 people passed out, while three suffered broken bones.
Imam said that in response, police immediately ordered the booth to stop selling the phones and dispersed the crowd. Up to 200 police and security guards were also deployed to restore order and prevent similar scenes from recurring.
Ambulances and paramedics were rushed to the scene, with at least three people taken to hospital with fractured or broken bones.
Sherly, 32, who had been waiting since 3 a.m., told the Jakarta Globe that she passed out in the crush.
“The mass just went crazy and began pushing each other,” she said. “It was really scary, I was squeezed by the crowd until I lost consciousness.”
Sherly, who has never owned a BlackBerry but was attracted by the massive discount, was later observed begging a BlackBerry staff member to be allowed to reclaim her position in the queue.
Sandy, a Blackberry staff member, said the queue had begun forming from 4 p.m. the previous day.
During the promotion, in which the phones were sold for Rp 2.3 million ($260) at just half the normal retail price of Rp 4.6 million.
Though each person was initially told that they needed to collect a red bracelet from management before they could purchase a phone, the rule was abandoned as the size of the crowd grew on Friday morning.
“The rules have changed,” said Karim, who had been queuing since early Friday morning. “At 9 a.m., the management said that everyone in the queue would definitely get [a phone], with or without the red bracelet.”
Speaking to the Globe at 10:40 a.m., forty minutes before the phones began selling, Karim said he was still unsure whether he would be able to get into the mall.
At 11 a.m. police were again called into action as frustration again threatened to boil over.
“Everyone, please be patient and stand in line,” a police officer yelled through a megaphone. “Please do not push each other! Everyone who has queued will definitely get a phone. Please remember your own safety.”
Arifin, a security guard with a rottweiler police dog, said the situation remained tense.
“The situation is manageable now, as long as the crowd stay in order.”
Although the event was allowed to continue, repeated rowdiness prompted police and BlackBerry to later close the event prematurely at 1:30 p.m. Police have also prohibited BlackBerry from continuing the promotion today, but a message sent out on BlackBerry Messenger later in the day obviated that possibility.
“No point coming here — easier to get your new Bold 9790 tomorrow from authorized BlackBerry retailers across Indonesia,” the message read.
Police said the BlackBerry officials would be questioned about their failure to provide sufficient safeguards.
Sr. Comr. Baharudin Djafar, a Jakarta Police spokesman, said that for a promotion that was expected to be as popular as this, the organizers should have reported ahead to the police.
“If they had, we would have been able to deploy security personnel from the beginning. We can’t have thousands of people crushed in a confined space,” he said.