It’s not every day that the monster Australian heavy-metal rock hand AC/DC plays Salt Lake City. So the one-show-only Jan. 18 concert at the downtown Salt Palace seemed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to some young Utah fans. They stood in line overnight to buy the $18 tickets, determined to be there if it was the last thing they ever did. Tragically, for three teenagers, it was.
Of the 13,294 fans present, more than 4,400 had obtained general admission or “festival style seating”—in other words, no seating at all. They stood, packed together, on the floor in front of the stage. Such arrangements have frequently been banned at rock arenas since 11 people were trampled and asphyxiated at a 1979 Who concert in Cincinnati. Now the nightmare recurred: Early in the performance, the crowd surged forward.
Those in front fell, and as the band played on—apparently unaware of the deadly drama beyond the footlights—the life was crushed out of Jimmie Boyd Jr., 14, Curtis White Child, 14, and Elizabeth Glausi, 19.
In the wake of the calamity, AC/DC released a statement saying that “nothing anyone can say or do will diminish the tragic loss or sense of grief “at the deaths. They criticized “erroneous news reports that the band continued to perform with callous disregard for the safety of the audience.” Here, in the words of witnesses to the disaster, and grieving friends and families, is correspondent Cathy Free’s report.
SCOTT CARTER, 28, a teacher, was moonlighting as a concert security guard.
People are always pushing to try to get to the front, but this time it really escalated. By the second song, people four feet from the the stage started falling on top of each other. There were 20 or 25 kids, all in one pile, and people pushing all around. We were trying to reach in to pull people out, but everybody’s legs were entwined, and we couldn’t. Everybody was desperately trying to get out, and AC/DC’s main security guy came over and tried to pull the people off the top. But every time he pulled somebody out, somebody else fell on top of the pile like dominoes.
SCOTT NEIL, 17, went to the concert with his best friend, Curtis Child, but quickly lost him in the crowd.
I caught a glimpse of Curtis at the very beginning, but that’s the last I saw of him until the police showed me pictures of him on a respirator. During the first couple of songs, I fell against the metal barricade in front of the stage and pulled myself up. I held on tight. It was a scene of panic. People were falling right next to me. People were screaming, “Help me!” with their arms up, but there was nothing I could do.
CARTER says he tried unsuccessfully to get AC/DC’s head security man to stop the concert. (AC/DC’s management disputes this, insisting that the band stopped playing as soon as they were made aware of the danger.)
I was screaming at the top of my lungs “Cut it!” and giving hand gestures, but he wouldn’t listen. He was pulling people off the top, which wasn’t helping the people on the bottom. People were crying and reaching up, trying to grab my hair, anything they could. They grabbed my arms, my shirt, in desperation. I looked to my right and saw the whites of one guy’s eyes. They were the size of softballs—he was being smothered.
BRANDI BURTON, 19, awakened in LDS Hospital a few hours after she lost consciousness beneath a pile of struggling bodies. Her roommate and Brigham Young University sorority sister Elizabeth Glausi, also trapped in the crush, died three days later.
We were excited about the concert and were laughing, having a good time when we walked onto the main floor. When AC/DC came on, there was a jolt forward. Immediately, Liz and I were knocked down. We were about five people from the front in the center. I remember a pounding of music; it was incredibly loud. About 10 or 15 people were right on top of us. People were falling on top of our faces, our bodies. I was at the very bottom, and Liz was on top of me. We were screaming for help, but there was no way to pull us up. We couldn’t get any air. After 10 minutes or so, I said, “Liz, you’ve got to breathe. Try to breathe, please, breathe.” I looked at Liz and she said, “I can’t.” Then she closed her eyes. The last thing I remember is saying, “Please God, don’t let us die.”
CARTER: Finally, me and four other security guys left the barricade and went around the sides to the back of the crowd and pushed through toward the stage. It took us five or 10 minutes to get there, but it seemed like hours. Only two of us made it through, Russ Boyd and myself. I’m a bodybuilder, 5’8″, 240 lbs., and when I got to that stage, I was exhausted. I was frantic, screaming at them to shut the show down. It was about 45 minutes before the lead singer [Brian Johnson] came to the edge of the stage and called for a spotlight. I don’t know who finally told him what was going on.
RUSS BOYD, 37, another part-time security guard, guessed it was after six or seven songs that AC/DC’s Johnson told the crowd to back up. (A band representative says only four songs were played before Johnson admonished the audience—much less than 45 minutes.)
This band is like God to these kids. As soon as [Johnson] said that, they backed right off, and that’s when we started to pull people out. There were two girls on the bottom who looked real bad. Scotty and I took one [Brandi Burton] out, and we had to fight the crowd to get through even then. It’s like these kids really didn’t care. They didn’t care about anything but the damned music.
JIMMIE BOYD SR., an auto mechanic, had given Jimmie Jr. $20 for a concert ticket, though his wife, Betty, said the family couldn’t afford it.
My son wanted to go so badly that I said, ‘Well, okay, just to make you happy, I’ll let you go.’ It was so important to him, I couldn’t say no. Boy, was he happy. Jimmie liked rock and roll—he played [tapes] all the time. He liked football too, and Nintendo and drawing. I’ve got a bunch of his drawings—he’d draw pictures of rock bands. He even drew the AC/DC logo. Looking back at what happened, I feel like I’m to blame. I shouldn’t have given him the money for the ticket. I feel I made a mistake. I should have said no.