Police and rescue officials check the wreckage of a hot air
balloon that crashed in Luxor. REUTERS/Stringer
At least 19 people, most of them Asian and European
tourists, died when a hot air balloon caught fire and crashed
near the ancient Egyptian town of Luxor after a mid-air gas
explosion, officials said.
The balloon came down in farmland a few kilometres from the
Valley of the Kings and pharaonic temples popular with
tourists. Rescue workers gathered the dead from the field
where the charred remains of the balloon, gas canisters and
other pieces of wreckage landed.
One Egyptian was also killed, Health Minister Mohamed Mostafa
Hamed told Reuters, listing the other victims as tourists
from Japan, China, France, Britain and Hungary. Earlier,
officials had said all the dead were foreigners.
The balloon crashed on the west bank of the Nile river, where
many of the area's major historical sites are located.
Konny Matthews, assistant manager of Luxor's Al Moudira
hotel, said she heard an explosion at about 7am. "It was a
huge bang. It was a frightening bang, even though it was
several kilometres away from the hotel," she said by phone.
"Some of my employees said that their homes were shaking."
Ahmed Aboud, head of an association representing Luxor
balloon operators, said the fire had begun in the pipe
linking the gas canisters to the burner. He said it was an
The deaths were caused by burns and injuries sustained in the
fall, said Mohamed Mustafa, a doctor at the hospital where
the injured were treated.
The pilot survived by jumping from the basket, Aboud said.
The British government said two British citizens and a
British resident of Egypt had been killed. "We can also
confirm that one other British national was involved and is
in a stable condition," a British foreign ministry statement
Two French citizens were killed, according to France's
foreign ministry. The Japanese embassy in Cairo said it
believed four Japanese had been aboard and had sent staff to
Luxor to confirm this.
Transport accidents are frequent in Egypt. Dozens of children
were killed in November when the bus they were on collided
with a train. Accidents affecting foreign tourists are rarer,
but not unusual. Five Germans were killed in December in a
bus crash near a Red Sea resort.
US photographer Christopher Michel, who was on board another
balloon, told Britain's Sky News television that the balloon
was one of eight flying at the time. "We heard a loud
explosion behind us. I looked back and saw lots of smoke. It
wasn't immediately clear that it was a balloon," he said.
Hot air ballooning at dawn is popular with tourists, who are
a mainstay of the Egyptian economy, although visitor numbers
have fallen sharply since a 2011 uprising that toppled
President Hosni Mubarak. Two years of political instability
have kept many foreign tourists away.
Tourism accounted for more than a 10th of Egypt's gross
domestic product before the revolt. In 2010, about 14.7
million visitors came to Egypt, but this slumped to 9.8
million the next year.
Wael Ibrahim, head of the tour guides' syndicate in Luxor,
said he did not expect the accident to make the situation
worse for tour operators in the area than it already was.
"We've already been affected badly in Egypt," he said.
Some tourists may be more wary of activities like hot air
ballooning, he said, but added: "This (type of) accident
could happen anywhere in the world."
Last year a balloon plunged to the ground in flames in
Slovenia, killing four people and injuring 28.
Egyptian Civil Aviation Minister Wael el-Maadawi said a
committee from the ministry was heading to Luxor to
investigate the incident. He said hot air balloon flights
would be stopped until an investigation into the cause of the
"We cannot say whether this was because of maintenance or
human (error) until the investigation committee is completely
done with its investigation," he told Al Jazeera TV's