National news: Britons thought to be among 19 tourists killed as hot air balloon crashes in Egypt

Rescue workers inspect the scene of the balloon crash outside al-Dhabaa village, just west of the city of Luxor, 320 miles south of Cairo, Egypt. Photo: AP Photo/Hagag Salama. Rescue workers inspect the scene of the balloon crash outside al-Dhabaa village, just west of the city of Luxor, 320 miles south of Cairo, Egypt. Photo: AP Photo/Hagag Salama.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013
8:50 AM

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.

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Egyptians gather near the scene of the balloon crash outside al-Dhabaa village, just west of the city of Luxor, 320 miles south of Cairo, Egypt. Photo: (AP Photo/Hagag Salama.Egyptians gather near the scene of the balloon crash outside al-Dhabaa village, just west of the city of Luxor, 320 miles south of Cairo, Egypt. Photo: (AP Photo/Hagag Salama.

The casualties included British, French, Japanese nationals and nine tourists from Hong Kong, a security official said.

Three survivors of the crash - two tourists and one Egyptian - were taken to a local hospital.

The balloon was carrying at least 20 tourists when it caught fire over Luxor, triggering an explosion in its gas canister, before plunging at least 1,000ft (300 metres) from the sky.

It crashed into a sugar cane field outside al-Dhabaa village just west of Luxor, 320 miles (510 kilometres) south of Cairo, said the official.

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.

The official said foul play has been ruled out.

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 Luxor.

Sixteen people were hurt, including two British women, when a balloon crashed during a tour of Luxor in April 2009.

The balloon was believed to have hit a mobile phone transmission tower near the banks of the Nile.

Former policewoman Linda Lea, 67, from Stoke-on-Trent, still suffers from the multiple injuries she sustained in that crash.

She said today: “I cannot believe this has happened again. They promised to tighten safety procedures after my crash. Flights were stopped for a time.

“These balloons are just too unstable. There is not enough training of staff. There were about 22 or 23 in my balloon when it crashed and maybe there was too many then and too many in today’s accident.”

Following the 2009 crash, early morning hot air balloon flights over the Valley of the Kings on the West Bank of the Nile were suspended for six months while safety measures were tightened up.

During the break, all 42 pilots from the eight companies who operate flights had extra training.

Other initiatives to improve safety brought in included confining all take-offs to a new balloon “airport” and limiting the maximum number of balloons up at the same time to eight - previously as many as 50 could share the air space.

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