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Compression asphyxia meaning in Astroworld victims' medical examination

Molly Young December 17, 2021
Photo by THOMAS SHEA/AFP via Getty Images

It has been more than a month since the devastating crowd surge at the Astroworld music festival resulted in the deaths of ten attendees. A medical examination has now revealed the victims’ cause of death, according to official information reported by CNN.

What is compression asphyxia and how can it lead to death? We explain the meaning of the term by exploring what this medical phenomenon is and the critical effect it can have on someone.

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What does compression asphyxia mean?

Compression asphyxia is defined as a fatal interference with breathing, as reported by Force Science.

Also known as traumatic asphyxia, the issue occurs when external pressure is placed on the chest that prevents normal breathing. It is often “associated with internal injuries”, as per the National Library of Medicine

General asphyxia or asphyxiation is a condition of the deficient supply of oxygen to the body that arises from abnormal breathing. This is often caused by being in environments where oxygen isn’t readily accessible.

In compression asphyxia, respiration is prevented usually due to external force compressing the trunk through a heavy weight applied to the chest or abdomen. 

Astroworld Festival victims’ medical examination

American rapper Travis Scott’s annual music festival, Astroworld, took place in Houston, Texas, on 5 November 2021.

As reported by ABC News, a devastating crowd surge at the event resulted in the deaths of ten people while hundreds were injured among an estimated 50,000 attendees.

Candles are lit at a makeshift memorial on November 7, 2021 at the NRG Park grounds where eight people died in a crowd surge at the Astroworld Festival in Houston, Texas. – Authorities in Texas opened a criminal investigation Saturday into a tragedy in which the crowd at a huge Travis Scott rap concert surged toward the stage in a crush that killed eight people and sent dozens to the hospital. Around 50,000 people were in the audience at Houston’s NRG Park Friday night when the crowd started pushing toward the stage as Scott was performing, triggering chaotic scenes. (Photo by Thomas Shea / AFP) (Photo by THOMAS SHEA/AFP via Getty Images)

ABC News states medical examiners with the Harris County Institute Of Forensic Sciences in Houston had to wait several weeks following the concert for additional test results before making final determinations on the cause and manner of the deaths.

Compression asphyxia was listed as cause of death for all ten victims and the manner of the deaths was ruled an accident.

In ABC News reports, Dr George W Williams, a critical care anaesthesiologist at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, compared the pressure victims were likely to have felt on their chests to being “crushed by a car”.

What happened during the crowd surge?

A crowd surge happens when a large group of people try to move into a smaller space at once, Steve Allen, a lead crowd safety consultant at Crowd Safety, told Verywell Health.

Officials recently announced that during the large crowd surge at Astroworld, attendees were packed so tightly many could not breathe or move their arms.

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Photo by Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images

A medical expert told ABC News that what likely happened was the pressure from the large crowd at the event was so great it quickly squeezed all the air from the lungs of the ten victims.

This reportedly caused people to pass out within a minute or more and compression asphyxia resulted in death because critical organs, such as the heart and brain, became depleted of oxygen.

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Molly Young is a Journalism with Public Relations student at Leeds Beckett University. Boasting a creative background through her studies and on her personal social media channels, Molly loves creating content and providing entertainment analysis through her writing.