DUBAI // Two teenagers who spread helium gas through air-conditioning units as a prank caused Saturday evening’s panic in the Reel Cinemas wing of Dubai Mall, police said yesterday.
The gas “caused people to get irritated and some people got scared and panicked as a consequence”, a Dubai Police CID spokesman said.
Hundreds of visitors, cinema-goers and staff from shops next to the cinema were moved out of the area at about 7.45pm after complaints of suffocation and nausea caused by a suspicious smell.
Panic erupted when people began coughing inside and around the cinema’s lobby area. People were allowed to return to the mall within 20 minutes, after Dubai Civil Defence declared it safe.
Police said no one was injured and everything was back to normal shortly afterwards.
The two teenagers, aged 14 or 15, have not been charged because they “did not have any bad intentions. They were not aware that the gas would spread and cause this chaos”, the spokesman said. “However, the parents of the two children are to write an undertaking that the offence will not be repeated.”
Witnesses were puzzled by the suggestion that helium could have been the source of the suspicious smell.
One cinema-goer said: “Helium is an odourless gas, lighter than air. This was a chemical smell. Saying it was helium does not make sense.”
Another expatriate was not convinced that helium, a colourless and mostly non-toxic gas, had made people sick.
“Anyone who has used balloons knows it was definitely not helium,” he said. “The smell was pretty intense.
“A lot of people were running out. Everyone was coughing, choking and there was vomit on the floor. People had covered their faces. There was a burning sensation in my throat and nostrils. Everyone was pretty freaked out.”
Reel Cinemas declined to comment.