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New York Post photographer defends picture of subway victim

December 05, 2012|By Tina Susman

NEW YORK -- A freelance photographer who took a chilling picture of a man about to be killed by a subway train said Wednesday that there was "no way" he could have saved the man but that other people in the station could probably have pulled him to safety.

R. Umar Abbasi told NBC's "Today" show that he had been in Times Square shooting an assignment for the New York Post and was on a platform at a nearby subway station when, out of the corner of his eye, he "saw a body flying off onto the tracks."

"There was a collective gasp, and that got my attention," Abbasi said. At that point, he saw the man on the tracks and saw the lights of a train approaching.

Abbasi said he began running toward the scene and snapping pictures in hopes the flash of his camera would alert the conductor of the train. But the train was unable to stop in time, and Ki-Suck Han, 58, was crushed to death as he tried to climb back onto the platform.

Police on Tuesday arrested a 30-year-old man suspected of having pushed Han. No charges had been filed as of Wednesday morning.

The New York Post, which ran the photograph of Han's desperate attempt to save himself on its front page Tuesday, has come under fire from many readers for subjecting Han's family in Queens to the image. Abbasi also has been criticized for taking pictures rather than saving Han, something he said he could not have done even if he had not been carrying a camera.

"If this thing had happened again with the same circumstances, whether I had a camera or not and I was running toward it, there is no way I could have rescued Mr. Han," Abbasi said. "What really surprises me," he added, "is the people who were maybe 100 or 150 feet away from Mr. Han -- they did not reach out to help him."

The platform where the incident occurred is several hundred feet long. Abbasi said he was at one end of it, farther from Han than people waiting closer to the middle or the opposite end of the platform.

"The people who were standing close to him [Han] on the 50th Street exit could have ... they could have moved and grabbed him and pulled him out. Nobody made an effort," Abbasi said.

Video taken in the minute before Han's death showed him in a verbal altercation with another man.

Witnesses have described the man as possibly mentally disturbed and said he had been harassing others on the platform. As Han and the man began arguing -- at one point the alleged pusher yells at Han to "leave me alone!" -- other people moved away from them.

After Han was pushed, some witnesses have said people froze in shock, then rushed toward him to try to help after the train pinned him between the cars and the platform. One woman tried to perform CPR.

Abbasi said it was 22 seconds between the time he saw someone landing on the tracks and the time the train crushed Han. He added that he lost some time running toward the scene because the suspect ran in his direction after Han fell onto the tracks.

"Twenty-two seconds is a long time, but in this process while I'm running, the person who pushed him is coming toward me," Abbasi said. "There's a lapse in there when I braced myself with my back to the wall because I don't want to be pushed to the platform."

Abbasi, asked if he had sold the photograph, said he had "licensed it" but did not say to whom.

"What surprised me," he said, "is that there were so many cellular telephones that were taking pictures of a dead body while the doctor was trying to perform CPR."

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