Egypt balloon tragedy

Balloon pilot was not to blame for disaster in Egypt, say colleagues

They suspect faulty hardware, not human error, led to tragedy in the sky

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 March, 2013, 8:37am

Egyptian balloon pilots have leapt to the defence of their colleague who survived last week's disaster in Luxor that left 19 tourists dead, including nine from Hong Kong.

They suspect the crash was caused by faulty hardware rather than human error on the part of Moman Mourad, the 28-year-old Sky Cruise pilot who jumped from the balloon and suffered severe burns.

Ahmed Hussein, who has been flying for eight years with a rival company, Magic Horizon Balloons, said: "Moman is a good pilot."

He was one of several pilots to defend Moman, who is believed to have been flying for eight years and had a clean record.

According to initial witness accounts, the balloon was about to land when the drop line thrown by the pilot became tangled with a hose connected to gas cylinders. The hose broke, causing a gas leak and an explosion.

The pilots thought otherwise, suspecting faulty machinery rather than the professionalism of Moman.

A pilot should be throwing a drop line down to ground crew during landing
Alla El Din Mahmoud, sales director at balloon company

The tragedy has affected their livelihoods as all balloons have been grounded until aviation authorities finish their investigation in two to three weeks.

"I received 15 months of training," Hussein said. "I started with small balloons, flying a three-man balloon over the desert during training."

Guiding the Post party into a balloon garage, he picked out a typical 20-passenger balloon. It consists of five compartments - four where passengers stand and one in the middle containing four gas cylinders connected by hoses to four burners above them.

Pilots control the burners by turning a handle attached to each one. Alla El Din Mahmoud, sales director of Hussein's company, disagreed with earlier reports that the drop line broke a hose.

"A pilot should be throwing a drop line down to ground crew during landing. The rope is attached to the exterior of the balloon and is unlikely to get tangled with the hoses," he said.

"The rope is also not strong enough to break the hose."

He suspected that the burners and hoses had become worn, and that flames shot out and hit the pilot while he was trying to control the balloon.

Other things in the basket could have caught fire, causing an explosion later, Mahmoud said.

His theory assumes that such faulty parts were unnoticed or ignored during regular maintenance checks.

As a best practice, crew should check the condition of the burners every night after flying, Mahmoud said. But he admitted that some operators may not always do this.

Additional reporting by Associated Press