Egypt balloon pilot tried in vain to reach safety valve
He couldn't stop gas leak on stricken balloon because he was engulfed in flames, his boss says
The pilot of the ill-fated Egyptian hot-air balloon which last week crashed and killed 19 tourists - including nine from Hong Kong - told his boss that he tried to reach the safety valves of the gas tanks to stop the leak but failed because he was on fire.
Speaking to the media for the first time since the tragedy in the southern city of Luxor, Ahmad El Sawy, the head of Sky Cruise, which owned the balloon, told reporters in Cairo on Monday he had visited pilot Moman Mourad in hospital, where he is recovering from severe burns.
Sawy said the pilot had tried to reach the safety valves of a gas cylinder after the fire broke out but he failed because he was engulfed in flames.
Meanwhile, relatives of the Hong Kong victims returned home yesterday afternoon after a harrowing week in Egypt where they visited the crash site and helped to identify the bodies of their loved ones.
The hot air balloon carrying 20 tourists and a pilot caught fire and exploded after a failed landing around 7am, after a 45-minute dawn flight on Tuesday.
The pilot and a British tourist, Michael Rennie, 49, were the only survivors of the deadly inferno.
Sawy said there were only two possible reasons for the accident: human error or faulty equipment. "There is no third scenario for the accident, except either a pilot mistake, which is throwing the drop line without making sure it's not entangled with the hose," he said. "The other is a manufacturing fault." He apologised to the families of the victims, who included tourists from France, Egypt, Britain and Japan.
Psychologist Rosalie Lo Shuk-yee, sent to Cairo by the Hospital Authority to help the relatives, said they were fairly calm despite the traumatic circumstances.
"All the family members are relatively settled," Lo said after arriving at Chek Lap Kok airport yesterday, adding that ongoing assistance would be provided.
The relatives want the bodies of their loved ones back home as soon as possible so they can perform rituals and let them go in peace, Lo said.
Chief Inspector Cheung Wai-man said a regional crime unit from New Territories South would liaise with the Egyptian authorities via the Chinese embassy in Cairo and submit a report to the Coroner's Court, Cheung said.
Senior immigration officer Hong Hoi said two of his colleagues were still in Cairo to co-ordinate the return of the victims' bodies, finalise the death certificates and work with the insurance firms on compensation claims.