x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Balloon crash victim 'fighting for his life'

Hilary Mtui, the crew member severely injured in a deadly hot-air balloon crash three weeks ago, remains in the intensive-care unit of Tawam Hospital.

AL AIN // Hilary Mtui, the crew member severely injured in a deadly hot-air balloon crash three weeks ago, remains in the intensive-care unit of Tawam Hospital, partially paralysed and unable to speak after undergoing a tracheotomy. The Tanzanian, 27, was thrown from the balloon's gondola on April 25 along with Mukesh Shah, 56, from India, and Jean-Pierre Chamignon, 53, from France, as the craft came in for an emergency landing in high winds.

Mr Shah and Mr Chamignon were killed. Eleven other people in the gondola suffered minor cuts and bruising. According to a source at Tawam Hospital, Mr Mtui "is awake but only able to move his arms. Both his legs are paralysed but he is scheduled for a spinal cord fixation surgery". Mr Mtui is unable to speak because of the tracheotomy, a procedure performed on the throat that opens a direct airway. However, he is able to communicate by writing.

Peter Kollar, director of Balloon Adventures Emirates, the company that owned and operated the balloon, said Mr Mtui was "still fighting for his life". Christopher Bouwer, 25, and Nicole Bailey, 24, who were on the balloon, spoke with Mr Mtui just before the crash. "He told us that it was his second day on the job and his first balloon flight ever," Mr Bouwer said. Following the crash, the survivors were stranded in the desert for almost two hours until help arrived.

Ms Bailey said that Mr Mtui was flown by helicopter from the scene of the desert crash, about 50 kilometres from Al Ain, to hospital. Since the crash, several members of Mr Mtui's family, including an older brother who lives in Dubai, and a number of friends have been visiting him in hospital regularly. The General Civil Aviation Authority suspended any further flights by Balloon Adventures Emirates pending the outcome of the investigation into the incident.

@Email:ealghalib@thenational.ae