suntimes
SPLENDID 
Weather Updates

Families identify victims of Egypt balloon fire

Article Extras
Story Image

Updated: February 27, 2013 1:33PM



CAIRO (AP) — Investigators are collecting information of the cause of the fire that broke out in a hot air balloon in the ancient Egyptian city of Luxor, killing 19 tourists, the head of the probe said, as relatives of some of the Western and Asian victims arrived Wednesday to identify the victims.

The nineteen tourists died when the hot air balloon they were riding caught fire and plummeted about 1,000 feet to the ground Tuesday in Luxor in southern Egypt. One British tourist survived along with the Egyptian pilot of the balloon, who was badly burned.

The lead investigator Walid el-Moqadem said investigation in Luxor is in the phase of collecting data and documentation about the accident and the balloon. He told The Associated Press that the pilot, who suffered severe burns, was in Cairo and authorities have not yet been able to question him.

“He could barely open his eyes,” el-Moqadem said, speaking by telephone from Luxor.

According to initial reports, the balloon over Luxor, 510 kilometers (320 miles) south of Cairo, was in the process of landing after 7 a.m. when a cable got caught around a gas tube and a fire erupted.

Initially, an investigator on the scene said the cable got caught around a helium tube. But el-Moqadem said there were no helium tubes in the balloon. He said there were only four fuel gas canisters in the balloon, said el-Moqadem.

When the fire broke out, the balloon rose back up into the air, then the fire burst the balloon and it fell some 1,000 feet back to the ground, crashing in a sugar cane field. The bodies of the tourists were scattered across the field around remnants of the balloon.

El-Moqadem said it was too early to determine what caused the fire and would give no further details.

On Tuesday, investigators said it appeared the pilot leaped out of the gondola when the fire first erupted during landing, when it was close to the ground. They blamed the pilot for failing to shut a valve that would have cut off the fire, preventing it from spreading. The investigators spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press.

The death toll surpassed what was believed by ballooning experts to be the deadliest accident in the sport’s 200-year history: In 1989, 13 people were killed when their hot air balloon collided with another over the Australian outback near the town of Alice Springs.

The balloon was carrying tourists from France, Britain, Belgium, Japan and Hong Kong plus an Egyptian pilot. The balloon flights provide panoramic views of the ancient Karnak and Luxor temples and the Valley of the Kings, the burial ground of Tutankhamun and other pharaohs.

An airport official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said relatives of nine tourists from Hong Kong arrived in Cairo to identify the bodies of the victims.

The bodies of all the victims were moved on Tuesday to morgues in Cairo. The two survivors were being treated in military hospitals.

Authorities suspended hot air balloon flights, a popular tourist attraction here, while investigators determined the cause of the accident.

The tragedy raised worries of another blow to the nation’s vital tourism industry, decimated by two years of unrest since the 2011 revolution that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak. The southern city of Luxor has been hit hard, with vacant hotel rooms and empty cruise ships.



© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit www.suntimesreprints.com. To order a reprint of this article, click here.