Egypt balloon tragedy

Egyptian balloon-crash pilot Moman Mourad faces jail after being arrested

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 April, 2013, 3:52am

The pilot of the hot-air balloon that crashed in Egypt in February killing 19 people - nine of them Hongkongers - has been arrested and ordered to prison pending the outcome of an investigation, balloon operators say.

But the hospital where Moman Mourad is recovering under police guard, say he is still too ill to be moved.

Meanwhile, aviation staff have gone on strike in protest at the arrest of balloon airport supervisor Mohamed al-Taher, who is also in custody while the investigation continues.

The balloon, carrying 20 tourists and a pilot, caught fire and exploded after a failed landing in Luxor. The pilot and a British tourist were the only survivors.

Mohamed Youssef, a fellow pilot and friend of Mourad, told the South China Morning Post yesterday that the pilot had been taken to court.

"The court accused him of carelessness … but the hospital said he can't go to jail in his condition," Youssef said, adding that his friend would need six months to a year to recover.

Alla Mahmoud, sales director of Magic Horizon Balloons in Luxor, said Mourad "is under arrest - he is supposed to be in prison until they find out [the results]".

Balloon flights were supposed to resume in Luxor next Wednesday for the first time since the February 26 crash, but they have been further delayed by the strike of the civil aviation authority staff who supervise the balloon trips, Xinhua reported.

"The workers … are protesting the detention of their colleague Mohamed al-Taher, the supervisor of the balloon airport in Qurna zone, western Luxor," a local official told Xinhua.

It is the second delay since the authority said balloon flights could begin again this month, breaking its promise not to resume services before completing the crash investigation.

Mahmoud said it was not only balloon firms that had been affected by the crash. Business was "very bad" in Luxor generally and tourist numbers had dropped to fewer than 100 a day.

CNN reported that balloon firms would have to follow new rules upon the resumption of service. Pilots, engineers and ground crew would have to undertake extra safety training, while passengers would be required to sign waiver-of-liability documents.

Mahmoud said that would make little difference, only creating an impression that flying was not protected, while most passengers were insured.