Egypt balloon tragedy

Egyptian balloon tragedy company confirms victims had insurance cover

Egyptian firm produces HK$333,000 policy documents after demands by HK victims' families

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 February, 2014, 5:11am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 February, 2014, 5:11am

Relatives of the nine Hongkongers who died in a hot-air balloon tragedy in Egypt have won a small but crucial victory, with confirmation that their loved ones were covered by an insurance policy.

The news comes just ahead of the first anniversary of the accident on Wednesday.

The relatives got the insurance documents only after demanding for months that travel agent Kuoni obtain the policy from Sky Cruises, the hot-air balloon company in the ancient temple city of Luxor that chartered the ill-fated flight.

All nine victims had bought insurance specifically for the hot-air balloon ride. It stipulates a possible claim of 300,000 Egyptian pounds (HK$333,000) per person.

"We hope that we can pursue that path," said Siu Chi-keung, 39, who lost his younger brother, Siu Chi-man, and sister-in-law, Eleni Kwan Pui-man, both 37, after they signed up for the early-morning sightseeing trip.

But Siu said any attempt to claim compensation was on hold until the Egyptian authorities completed their investigation into the accident.

On Wednesday, relatives will meet Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok to discuss ongoing investigations in Hong Kong and Egypt. They will again demand the government lobby Cairo to speed up investigations so that Hong Kong authorities can press ahead with other possible avenues of inquiry.

Wednesday will also see the relatives meet Egyptian consular officials to discuss the matter.

Last month, the relatives lodged their third written request with the Coroner's Court, urging it to order an investigation into the deaths.

On February 6, the coroner replied it had asked Hong Kong police to "speed up" its investigation because any ruling in a possible inquest would only be made when the police report was finalised.

"It is understood that the report is in its final stage and is only pending Hong Kong experts and civil aviation authorities in Egypt to study it and give suggestions," the letter stated.

Four men and five women aged 33 to 62 from three Hong Kong families died when the hot-air balloon burst into flames due to a gas leak moments before landing. The leak caused the balloon to shoot upwards and explode, sending its wicker basket plummeting to the ground. Ten other passengers also died.

The only survivors were a British man, Michael Rennie, and the pilot, an Egyptian, who jumped out before the balloon was sent rocketing skywards.

Last month, Egypt's Ministry of Civil Aviation released a report on the accident and found that a faulty gas tube had caused a leak that sparked the fire. It did not mention human error.

In July, Egypt's top prosecutor said a criminal probe had found human error was to blame.