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Hanoi investigates music fest deaths amidst a passing-the-buck game

People dance at Hanoi's electronic music festival on Sunday
People dance at Hanoi’s electronic music festival on Sunday

As agencies say ‘not me,’ Hanoi has begun probing drug overdose deaths at a Hanoi music festival.
Charges being considered are “Harboring illegal use of narcotics” and “Forcing/Inducing other people into illegal use of narcotics.”

If charged, those held responsible could end up serving between one and 15 years in prison. Drug users will be fined VND500,000 to VND1 million ($22 to $44).

Seven people died and five others were admitted to hospitals after overdosing on drugs during the Vietnam Electronic Weekend (VEW) Festival at the West Lake Water Park in Tay Ho District Sunday night.

All 12 people, between 18 and 29 years old, tested positive for methamphetamine, amphetamine, ecstasy, and marijuana.

At the scene of the festival, police found balloons containing nitrous oxide and unidentified pills.

Following the deaths, Hanoi on Monday announced the suspension of all music festivals until further notice.

Lax security

Witnesses said security was lax at the festival.

Quang, a Hanoian who was there on Sunday night, told VnExpress that security checks were carried out at two different ticket gates, one for guests “with belongings” and the other for those “without belongings.”

When he passed through the “without belongings” gate, security guards simply asked him if he was carrying any drugs or medicine or lighter with him. A simple “no” sufficed, and no physical check ensued.

People pass through two ticket gates, one for guests “with belongings” and the other for those “without belongings” to enter Hanoi's electronic music festival at the West Lake Water Park on Sunday.
People pass through two ticket gates, one for guests “with belongings” and the other for those “without belongings” to enter Hanoi’s electronic music festival at the West Lake Water Park on Sunday.

Insufficient space at the venue was also something Quang noticed.

“The main stage and two auxiliary stages were surrounded with curtains and covered with a roof, with thousands of people present. It was really stuffy,” Quang recalled.

“It was only when someone actually fainted that the curtains were raised, and we all got to breathe a little bit easier.”

Other witnesses said that balloons filled with nitrous oxide were sold publicly at the venue. Nitrous oxide, commonly known as the “laughing gas” has an euphoric effect on the nervous system when inhaled.

“One balloon costs VND200,000 (around $9), but they were mostly sold in pairs,” said one unnamed witness.

‘Done our part’

Vietnamese event planning firm A Chau affirmed that the company had collaborated with the West Lake Water Park’s managing board in preparing for the festival, which drew around 5,000 fans.

“We informed relevant authorities before organizing the event,” Le Thai Son, CEO of A Chau, said Tuesday.

He said medical help was available inside the venue, with two medical stations, two ambulances and several medical workers present at the venue’s two entrances.

Responding to claims of lax security and the public sale of balloons containing nitrous oxide, Son said he couldn’t comment further until official investigations were completed.

He also said that the crowd at the festival made it difficult for personnel to find out where the overdosed participants were, to help them.

“We organizers have done our job in maintaining security and order during the festival. Despite that, some participants brought in narcotics and other stimulants. We’ll wait for official investigation results from the police to find out more,” Son said.

Balloons containing nitrous oxide are sold publicly at the West Lake Water Park for participants at the music festival on Sunday.
Balloons containing nitrous oxide are sold publicly at the West Lake Water Park for participants at the music festival on Sunday.

Shifting blame

Hanoi’s Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, which authorized the music festival in the first place, said all procedures necessary to authorize the event were processed in accordance with the law.

Truong Minh Tien, the department’s deputy director, said necessary preparations had been carried out by organizers before the event began, echoing Son’s statement.

“We will learn from our mistakes,” Tien added.

On whose responsibility it was to ensure that people did not bring narcotics and other stimulants inside the festival venue, Do Anh Tuan, Chairman of the Tay Ho District People’s Committee, said the park was responsible.

“One day before the night of the event, the district had already verified all contracts and relevant documents regarding the festival, and carried out a ‘dry run’ for the event. As such, the district has done our part,” Tuan said.

The West Lake Water Park’s managing board has yet to comment on the incident.

Dubbed the biggest electronic music event ever in Vietnam, VEW was joined by top DJs including Ben Nicky, Yellow Claw and Headhunterz, drawing thousands of fans.

The Hanoi incident is almost unprecedented in Vietnam, although drug overdose has been a threat at music festivals around the world.

Last Saturday, a 23-year-old man and a 21-year-old woman died after collapsing of suspected drug overdose at the Defqon.1 festival in Sydney. Another 13 participants were hospitalized while about 700 sought assistance on site, Reuters reported.

In 2013 and 2015, two men in their 20s died while attending the this annual festival, both of suspected drug overdose.