Egypt balloon tragedy

Give tourists greater protection, says relative of Egypt crash victims

But official report on balloon crash will help victims’ families pursue compensation

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 June, 2013, 3:55am

Nick Wong lost his mother Ho Oi-ying and three other family members in the hot-air balloon crash that killed nine Hongkongers in Luxor, Egypt, three months ago.

Learning that an official report had pinpointed human error as the cause of the crash, he called on local tour agencies to step up protection for tour members joining optional activities overseas.

"Bad fortune befell my family. But if the loopholes are not plugged, tragedies will happen again," he said yesterday.

An inquiry in Egypt found that an unqualified person had fitted a fuel pipe improperly, causing a gas leak. The report said the pilot and authorities failed to do their jobs by not detecting the fault.

Hong Kong authorities can do little to improve balloon safety in Egypt, Wong said, but tour agencies could step up checks to ensure their overseas partners had good track records.

They should check tourists' insurance policies to make sure they covered the members' various activities, he added.

"I have lost four family members. What can compensation do? I just don't want them to die in vain," said Wong.

In an earlier meeting with the Travel Industry Council, the victims' families suggested that local tour agencies keep a copy of insurance policies their customers had paid for. In case of accidents, their families would then have access to the policy terms.

The watchdog's executive director Joseph Tung Yao-chung said its committee overlooking outbound tourism would consider their advice.

Insurance veterans said the release of the investigation report in Egypt would help the victims' families pursue compensation. The relatives have yet to receive any money from balloon operator Sky Cruise, which insured all the passengers for the activity.

If the Egyptian insurer failed to pay up, the families could file a civil case against the pilot or balloon company as a last resort, insurance-sector lawmaker Chan Kin-por said.

"According to Hong Kong laws, those responsible should pay compensation," Chan said. "But it's not certain the legal system in Egypt would be as good."

In theory, an insurance company should pay compensation regardless of the accident's cause as long as it covers the activity.

Jacky Cheung Shun-lai, Kuoni travel agency's business development manager, said it was liaising with its partner agency in Egypt. The agency had promised HK$200,000 in relief money for each of the victims.