Tourists killed in Egypt hot air balloon crash
LUXOR, EGYPT // A hot air balloon flying over Egypt’s ancient city of Luxor caught fire and crashed into a sugar cane field today, killing at least 18 foreign tourists, a security official said.
It was one of the worst accidents involving tourists in Egypt and likely to push the key tourism industry deeper into recession.
The casualties included French, British, Belgian, Hungarian, Japanese nationals and nine tourists from Hong Kong, the Luxor Governor Ezzat Saad said.
Three survivors of the crash – two tourists and one Egyptian – were taken to a local hospital.
According to the Egyptian security official, the balloon carrying at least 20 tourists was flying over Luxor when it caught fire, which triggered an explosion in its gas canister, then plunged at least 300 metres from the sky.
It crashed into a sugar cane field outside Al Dhabaa village just west of Luxor, 510 kilometres south of Cairo, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to the media.
The official said foul play has been ruled out. He also said initial reports of 19 dead were revised to 18 as confusion is common in the aftermath of such accidents.
In Hong Kong, a travel agency said nine of the tourists that were aboard the balloon were natives of the semiautonomous Chinese city. There was a “very big chance that all nine have perished,” said Raymond Ng, a spokesman for the agency. The nine, he said, included five women and four men from three families.
They were travelling with six other Hong Kong residents on a 10-day tour of Egypt.
Mr Ng said an escort of the nine tourists watched the balloon from the ground catching fire around 7am (9am UAE) and plunging to the ground two minutes later.
In Paris, a diplomatic official said French tourists were among those involved in the accident, but would give no details on how many, or whether French citizens were among those killed.
Speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to be publicly named according to government policy, the official said French authorities were working with their Egyptian counterparts to clarify what happened.
French media reports said two French tourists were among the dead but the official would not confirm that.
Hot air ballooning, usually at sunrise over the famed Karnak and Luxor temples as well as the Valley of the Kings, is a popular pastime for tourists visiting the area.
The site of the accident has seen past crashes. In 2009, 16 tourists were injured when their balloon struck a cellphone transmission tower. A year earlier, seven tourists were injured in a similar crash.
Egypt’s tourism industry has been decimated since the 18-day uprising in 2011 against autocrat leader Hosni Mubarak and the political turmoil that followed and continues to this day.
Luxor’s hotels are currently about 25 per cent full in what is supposed to be the peak of the winter season.
Updated: February 26, 2013 04:00 AM