Egypt balloon tragedy

Bodies of last Hong Kong balloon victims identified through DNA

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 March, 2013, 8:35am

The identities of all nine Hong Kong victims killed in last week's hot-air balloon explosion in Egypt have been confirmed, some by overnight DNA testing back in Hong Kong, a process that normally takes a week.

When the victims' remains would be returned, however, was uncertain. Egyptian, Chinese and local officials yesterday merely said they guaranteed a "prompt and safe" final return trip for the deceased.

The Government Laboratory received the body samples after 10pm on Saturday and announced confirmation of the victims' identities in Cairo at 5pm Hong Kong time yesterday - just hours after relatives paid a tearful pilgrimage to Luxor.

Samples from three bodies and those of family members were collected for DNA analysis, according to a government chemist, Leo Lam Tze-tsun. Relatives had been unable to identify the three in Cairo due to the condition of the bodies, which had probably fallen from 300 metres.

Yesterday, neither China's ambassador to Egypt nor Hong Kong immigration officials sent to Cairo were certain when a flight could be arranged for the deceased.

Senior immigration officer Lee Kwong-wah said discussions were under way with insurance and medical transport companies, the embassy and the Egyptian authorities "in the hope that the bodies can be transported back ... within the shortest time".

The issuance of death certificates was ongoing, Lee said.

China's ambassador to Egypt, Song Aiguo, said he was pressing Egypt's tourism minister, Hisham Zazou, to speed up the process yesterday. Zazou said the Egyptian government would "facilitate all procedures for the loved ones' bodies to go home safely ... in a very short period".

Commenting on the issue of culpability, Zazou said: "Once we get [the results of] the investigation, if there's any wrongdoing, rest assured that they [those responsible] will be penalised."

Zazou also said the matter of compensation would be raised with the operator of the balloon that caught fire and exploded last Tuesday, killing 19 people.