Balloon accident death toll rises
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 19 foreign tourists in one of the world’s deadliest ballooning accidents and handing a new blow to Egypt’s ailing tourism industry.
The casualties included French, British, Belgian, Hungarian, and Japanese nationals and nine tourists from Hong Kong, Luxor Governor Ezzat Saad told reporters.
The Department of Foreign Affairs in Ottawa said the Canadian Embassy in Cairo has confirmed with local authorities that no Canadians have been affected by this accident.
Egypt’s civil aviation minister, Wael el-Maadawi, suspended hot air balloon flights and flew to Luxor to lead the investigation into the crash.
The balloon, which was carrying 20 tourists and a pilot, was landing after a flight over the southern town when a landing cable got caught around a helium tube and a fire erupted, according to an investigator with the state prosecutor’s office.
The balloon then shot up in the air, the investigator said.
The fire set off an explosion of a gas canister and the balloon plunged some 300 metres (1,000 feet) to the ground, according to an Egyptian security official.
It crashed in a sugar cane field outside al-Dhabaa village just west of Luxor, 510 km south of Cairo, the official added.
Bodies of the dead tourists were scattered across the field around the remnants of the balloon. An Associated Press reporter at the crash site counted eight bodies as they were put into body bags and taken away.
The security official said all 18 bodies have been recovered.
Hot air ballooning is a popular pastime for tourists in Luxor—usually at sunrise to give a dramatic view over the pharaonic temples of Karnak and Luxor and the Valley of the Kings, a desert valley where many pharaohs, notably King Tutenkhamun, were buried.
Luxor has seen crashes in the past. 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.
The toll puts the crash among the deadliest involving a recreation hot air balloon.
In 1989, 13 people were killed when their hot air balloon collided with another over the Australian outback near the town of Alice Springs.