Egypt balloon crash kills 19, mostly foreign tourists

Tue Feb 26, 2013 3:29pm EST
 
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By Marwa Awad

LUXOR, Egypt (Reuters) - At least 19 people, most of them Asian and European tourists, died on Tuesday 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 kilometers (miles) 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 7 a.m. (0500 GMT). "It was a huge bang. It was a frightening bang, even though it was several kilometers 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 accident.

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.   Continued...

 
Police and rescue officials check the wreckage of a hot air balloon that crashed in Luxor February 26, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer