Egypt balloon tragedy

Hong Kong police to advise in Luxor balloon tragedy probe

Local force given advisory brief as Egyptian authorities investigate holiday crash in which nine Hongkongers died

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 March, 2013, 5:15am

Hong Kong police have been given an advisory role in Egypt's investigation into the deadly hot-air balloon crash in Luxor that killed 19 tourists, including nine Hongkongers.

The head of the investigation, Walid el-Moqadem, told Associated Press yesterday that while Hong Kong, would not be sending investigators at present, they had been granted an advisory role - along with Britain, Japan and Hungary. They would also be kept appraised of his progress through e-mails.

Earlier, the Civil Aviation Ministry said the balloon passed a full inspection less than two weeks before it burst into flames.

The ministry added both the pilot, Mohmin Morad, and balloon were licensed and the balloon had been "fully inspected" by aviation authorities over three days from February 13. On Wednesday, Xinhua quoted Luxor security officials saying the balloon was in "appalling condition".

In a statement on its social media website on Wednesday, the ministry added that the balloon, which was made in Spain in 2008 and should have a lifespan of 10 years, was fully insured.

The operator Sky Cruise yesterday said families of victims could receive up to 300,000 Egyptian pounds (HK$344,000) in compensation, but no money could be released before the outcome of aninvestigation.

Relatives of the nine Hongkongers who died were due to travel to Luxor to pay their respects to the dead. Nine family members flew into Egypt on Wednesday night. A tenth relative had been travelling with his wife on the ill-fated Kuoni Travel tour but decided not to join her for the balloon flight. A 16-member team from Hong Kong, including DNA experts, forensic pathologists and police officers, have also flown in to help identify and reclaim the bodies.

Yesterday saw new claims emerge that a Sky Cruise balloon narrowly missed crashing into a ship during a sightseeing flight in October 2011. Balloon pilots in Luxor told the Post that Tuesday's deadly blaze may have been caused by a rope catching a fuel device on landing.

The Post was also told that the pilot and a British survivor Michael Rennie, whose wife was killed in the crash, had not jumped from the basket so much as been thrown out. There were unconfirmed reports that as the flaming balloon soared skywards some passengers leapt out.

A spokeswoman for the Luxor governor's office said Morad, the pilot, was still in intensive care and unable to talk.

"He can barely open his eyes," el-Moqadem said.

Egyptian health minister Mohamed Mostfa said efforts to identify the bodies would continue today and tomorrow although the nation usually does not work on Friday and Saturday.

"The earliest families will be able to check the bodies will be Monday," he added.

At least eight bodies have been identified, but none of them was from Hong Kong, the Post understood.