Egypt balloon crash kills tourists

BY: Enoch Darfah Frimpong

British, French, Hong Kong and Japanese nationals are among at least 18 tourists killed in a hot air balloon crash near the Egyptian city of Luxor.

The balloon was at 1,000 ft (300m) when it caught fire and plunged onto fields west of Luxor, officials said.

At least two people, including the balloon's pilot, survived, reportedly by jumping out of the balloon before it crashed.

Luxor is home to some of Egypt's most famous pharaonic-era ruins.

It lies on the banks of the River Nile in the south of the country, and has long been a popular tourist destination.

British tour operator Thomas Cook confirmed that four of its clients were on board the balloon - two had died and two were in hospital.

"We have a very experienced team in resort with the two guests in the local hospital, and we're providing our full support to the family and friends of the deceased at this difficult time," Peter Fankhauser, CEO of Thomas Cook UK and Europe, said.

The Chinese embassy in Egypt has confirmed that nine Hong Kong tourists died in the balloon crash.

Egyptian police have said the other tourists include four from Japan and two from France. At least one Egyptian also died.

Earlier reports suggested 19 people had been killed.

Previous crashes

The crash happened on one of the many dawn hot air balloon flights that give tourists an aerial view of Luxor's famous sites, such as Karnak temple and the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings.

The balloon's operating company, Sky Cruise, confirmed that a gas cylinder exploded on board the balloon, bringing it down in an agricultural area just west of Luxor.

Cherry Tohamy's balloon was landing when she heard an explosion and saw flames from a balloon above.

"Our pilot told us that the balloon had hit a high pressure electrical cable and a cylinder on board exploded," said Ms Tohamy, an Egyptian living in Kuwait who was on holiday in Luxor.

"People were jumping out of the balloon from about the height of a seven-storey building."

She said ambulances were at the scene within 15 minutes.

Another witness, US photographer Christopher Michel said his balloon was just about to land when he "heard an explosion and saw smoke".

Hot air balloon crashes have happened in Luxor before. Two British women were among 16 injured when their balloon came down after hitting a communications tower in April 2009.

Balloons were grounded for six months after that crash while safety measures were tightened up and pilots were re-trained by Egypt's Civil Aviation Authority.

But, says the BBC's Aleem Maqbool in Cairo, since the 2011 revolution that toppled President Hosni Mubarak, the rule of law is not being respected in many aspects of Egyptian life, so it has been difficult for the tourism ministry to impose its authority on sites like this.

Luxor, like many other parts of Egypt, has seen a sharp downturn in visitor numbers since the uprising.