Egypt: Balloon crashes near Luxor killing 19 tourists
- 26 February 2013
- From the section Middle East
British, French, Hungarian, Hong Kong and Japanese nationals are among 19 tourists killed in a hot air balloon crash near the Egyptian city of Luxor.
The balloon was at 300m (1,000ft) when it caught fire and plunged into fields west of the ancient city.
At least two people, including the balloon's pilot, are reported to have jumped out of the balloon before it crashed.
Officials in Luxor say they have now banned all hot air balloon flights.
The UK Foreign Office said that two British nationals and one British resident had died. One of them was said to have undergone five hours of surgery in an effort to save his life, but died of his injuries. Another Briton is in a stable condition in hospital.
"The next of kin have been informed and our thoughts are with them and their families at this difficult time. We are providing them with consular assistance," it said in a statement.
The dead also included nine Hong Kong tourists, four from Japan, two French, one Hungarian and an Egyptian, Egypt's health ministry said.
The Chinese and Japanese embassies in Cairo, and the French foreign ministry, also confirmed that their nationals were among those killed. The Hungarian is understood to have been the British resident who died.
The pilot, who is being treated for burns, survived by jumping when the balloon was just 10-15m (33-49ft) above ground, a local ballooning official told Reuters news agency.
Luxor lies on the banks of the River Nile in the south of the country, and has long been a popular tourist destination.
It is home to some of Egypt's most famous ancient ruins, with the temples of Karnak and Luxor in the city itself and the tombs of famed pharaohs - including Tutankhamen - in valleys nearby.
The governor of Luxor, Ezzat Saad, told the BBC he wanted to send his condolences to the families of those killed and injured.
"We have never seen anything quite like this in Luxor before. It is an awful thing," he said.
"For the safety of the tourists and the Egyptians I have ordered all the companies dealing with balloons to stop flights until we know exactly what happened and the reasons for it."
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, said a gas cylinder exploded on board, bringing it down in sugar cane fields 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."
Alaa Mahmoud, a sales manager for another local balloon company, Magic Horizon, told the Guardian newspaper that the accident happened as crews tried to anchor the balloon to the ground using ropes hanging from the basket. The ropes became entangled in the tubes leading to the gas cylinder and severed them, after which the gas was ignited, he added.
"The flames were so strong that the pilot and one guy jumped," he said. "When they jumped, the balloon lost balance and the balloon went up again."
An investigator with the state prosecutor's office also told the Associated Press that a landing cable had got caught around a helium tube.
Another witness, US photographer Christopher Michel said his balloon was just about to land when he "heard an explosion and saw smoke".
The area has been cordoned off by police and investigators are inspecting the charred remains of the balloon.
Egypt's civil aviation minister has reportedly flown to Luxor to head the investigation into the crash.
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 re-trained.
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 during the two years since the uprising.