Balloon tragedy holds painful lessons
Few of us can imagine the horror and disbelief of the tourists, nine from Hong Kong, caught up in the hot-air balloon disaster in Egypt. In an instant, an adventure of wonder and awe became a fight for life, one that circumstances meant was bound to end tragically. The grief and sorrow of the relatives and friends of all who perished are shared by us all, a reminder of how easily loved ones can be taken from us. Questions as to what happened abound and they need to be answered.
Those who died had an adventurous spirit. The chance to see the Nile River and millennia-old sites of Luxor at dawn from a hot-air balloon is one few would have passed up. Those who could afford to signed up and boarded. There was little thought that equipment might be faulty or safety a problem. In the wake of the disaster, flights have rightly been suspended to determine what went wrong. As after another balloon accident at the same location in 2009 that injured 16 people, there can be no resumption until an investigation and review of safety standards has been conducted.
Egypt is an ancient land, but one that is also struggling to overcome the neglect of decades of corrupt rule. It is typical of destinations increasingly favoured by Hong Kong people, bored by traditional travel spots. But there are dangers with going to such places beyond the travel warnings posted by our government. Often, it comes down to a lack of regulation and safety. This was the reason for a bus crash in Egypt in 2006 that killed 14 Hong Kong tourists and for a rash of similar accidents on the mainland over the years.
Adventure travel has to be given a second thought in such places, no matter how experienced a traveller may be. The credentials of companies that operate tours and the promises of those behind rides like those involving balloons have to be carefully considered. A terrible tragedy has occurred and every effort has to be made to bring comfort to the victims and their families. But from loss also has to come lessons; answers have to be found to prevent similar calamities.