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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

South African tourist killed in Luxor hot air balloon crash

Twelve others hurt in accident caused by strong winds

Tourist hot air balloons float across Egypt's Valley of the Kings near Luxor at dawn. Charles Onians / AFP
Tourist hot air balloons float across Egypt's Valley of the Kings near Luxor at dawn. Charles Onians / AFP

One person was killed and seven others injured when a hot air balloon carrying foreign tourists over the Egyptian city of Luxor crashed on Friday.

Officials said the incident was caused by strong winds that forced the balloon, which was carrying 20 tourists, off course above the ancient city, home to some of Egypt's most famous pharaonic temples and tombs.

The balloon took off shortly before sunrise and flew about 45 minutes at an altitude of 450 metres before the pilot lost control due to strong wind that forced a crash landing in a mountainous area, the officials said.

They said the tourist who died was South African. No details were immediately available on the nationalities of the other victims. The remaining 12 tourists were unhurt.

Other balloons had taken off around the same time but landed safely, the officials added.

Earlier in the day, Egypt's meteorological service had warned of strong winds across the country, mainly in the Nile River delta and northern Egypt.

Hot air balloon incidents have occurred in the past over Luxor. The deadliest took place in 2013 when a balloon flying over the city caught fire and plunged about 305 metres to the ground, crashing into a sugar cane field and killing at least 19 foreign tourists.

In 2016, Egypt temporarily halted balloon flights after 22 Chinese tourists suffered minor injuries in a crash landing of their hot air balloon.

Over the years, Egypt has tightened safety rules for balloon rides, which are now monitored by cameras and banned from flying above 2,000 metres .

Balloon flights above Luxor are popular with tourists because of the spectacular views of the Karnak temple complex. The flights usually start before sunrise and pass over green fields leading to the Valley of the Kings — the burial site of famous boy king Tutankhamun and other pharaohs.

Egypt's vital but ailing tourism industry has been hit hard by extremist attacks and political turmoil following the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

In 2015, tourism was dealt a blow when ISIL's affiliate in Egypt downed a Russian passenger plane over the Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people aboard. Egypt never officially said what caused the downing of the Russian plane but ISIL said it blew up the plane with a bomb smuggled on board.

After the bombing, Russia imposed a ban on all flights to Egypt and Egypt's national carrier is still barred from flying to Russia.

Since then, the Egyptian government has been trying to draw tourists back to the country by announcing ancient discoveries and tightening security measures around tourist sites.