Relatives of Hongkongers killed in Egypt balloon tragedy face compensation battle

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 February, 2014, 3:46am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 February, 2014, 11:06am

Families of the victims who died in the Egypt hot-air balloon accident last year now face a legal hurdle in claiming damages, as the insurance policy states that it will only pay compensation if no more than one balloon was in the air at the time of an accident.

The clause in the policy runs contrary to industry standards, where most hot-air balloon operators fly more than one balloon when weather conditions permit.

The latest development in the families' battle for compensation emerged yesterday as they marked the first anniversary of their relatives' deaths.

The families met security chief Lai Tung-kwok to discuss the ongoing investigations in Egypt and Hong Kong, as well as the Egyptian consul to submit a letter requesting the speedy completion of a judicial report.

"It was generally a positive meeting with both of them," Siu Chi-keung, 39, said. Siu lost his brother Siu Chi-man and sister-in-law Eleni Kwan Pui-man, both 37, in the accident.

"I, like the other families, accept that it was an accident, but we would like to know if it could have been avoided. We feel helpless as we can't find out about the investigations in Egypt. The Hong Kong government says they've tried all avenues, yet we still have no answers," Siu said.

The judicial report from Egypt may help open the door to a coroner's inquiry in Hong Kong.

Last week, the relatives confirmed that the victims had bought insurance through balloon operator Sky Cruise, but that the policy stated: "It is hereby noted and agreed that no more than one balloon will be on air any one time."

The policy is from Arab Misr Insurance Group, a majority-owned subsidiary of the Gulf Insurance Group in Kuwait. Calls to the group's Cairo offices went unanswered last night.

Nine Hongkongers died on February 26 last year when their hot-air balloon caught fire just moments before it was due to land after a dawn flight over the ancient temple city of Luxor.

The flames caused the balloon, which was flying alongside several other balloons, to shoot up into the sky before plummeting back to earth. Nineteen of the 21 passengers died.

For Siu, the memories of his loss are still raw.

"I was relieved after I saw my brother's body, because the injuries were not as bad as I had imagined," he told the South China Morning Post yesterday, fighting back tears.

"I was worried his body would not be recognisable. I felt better to know he did not suffer too much before he died."

Siu visited his brother and sister-in-law's urns at a Diamond Hill columbarium with his parents and younger sister yesterday. "They still find it hard to …let go," he said of his parents, who are in their late 60s.

A Security Bureau spokesman said it was in contact with the foreign ministry, the Egyptian embassy in Beijing, and the consulate in Hong Kong.

Watch: File footage of Egypt balloon accident