Egypt balloon tragedy

Egypt balloon disaster that killed nine Hong Kong tourists blamed on human error

Criminal investigation into crash in Egypt that killed nine Hong Kong tourists blamed on gas leak from a pipe fitted by unqualified worker

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 June, 2013, 12:52pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 August, 2013, 4:13am

Human error was to blame for the hot air balloon disaster in Egypt that killed nine Hongkongers in February, a criminal investigation has found.

A final report on the accident in Luxor concluded the fire in the balloon was caused by a gas leak from a pipe that was installed by an unqualified worker.

Luxor's top prosecutor, Mohamed Fahmi, said: "The pilot and the maintenance engineer did not make necessary technical checks before taking off."

He said the result supported the decision to detain the pilot and a worker of the Ministry of Civil Aviation stationed at the balloon port on charges of negligence and lack of precautions.

According to witnesses, fire broke out in the balloon when it was coming down to land. It rose into the air before exploding and crashing to the ground.

A total of 19 tourists died. The only survivors were the pilot and a Briton who jumped to safety.

Balloon flights - except for those of Sky Cruise, whose balloon crashed - resumed in Luxor in April after being suspended for two months. Alla Mahmoud, of Magic Horizon Balloons in Luxor, said pilot Momin Murad had paid bail money of 10,000 Egyptian pounds (HK$11,100) to the court, which would be refunded if he was innocent. The airport worker had paid 40,000 pounds.

Mahmoud said the hot air balloon industry in Luxor was in a grim state, with only a dozen or so tourists a day taking flights and Chinese tour agencies no longer selling the activity.

Families of victims want the Hong Kong government to initiate a Coroner's Court hearing, not to help them get compensation but to pursue the culprits.

"I don't want the victims to perish in a mystery," said Nick Wong, the son of dead tourist Ho Oi-ying. The Ho family lost four members in the crash. "It's not an accident but a man-made disaster. It means it can be prevented in future," Wong said.

Apart from media reports, the relatives of victims had received little information about inquiries in Egypt. To have a court hearing in Hong Kong would uncover the truth, Wong said.

Siu Chi-keung, whose younger brother Siu Chi-man died in the crash, was surprised by the result of the criminal probe.

"I thought it was simply an accident … Why would they ask some unqualified worker to install the pipes? Why would they fail to check the conditions before the take-off?"

The district crime squad of New Territories South has started its own investigation, a police spokesman said. The completed report will be sent to the coroner.

Lawmaker Kwok Wai-keung, who assisted the family members, said China Merchants Insurance had reached an agreement with families, but the terms would remain confidential.

Six victims bought insurance offered by the company, which earlier argued hot air balloons were exempt from cover.