Nine Hong Kong tourists die in Egypt balloon fire
A hot air balloon exploded as it was flying over Egypt’s ancient temple city of Luxor on Tuesday, killing 19 people including nine tourists from Hong Kong.
Nationals from Japan, France and Britain were also reportedly among the dead, according to an Egyptian security official.
On Tuesday in Hong Kong, Raymond Ng, general manager of the travel agency Kuoni, which organised the Hong Kong tourists’ trip to Egypt, held a press conference.
Ng said that nine of the 19 tourists involved in the accident were Kuoni’s clients and they “very probably” died in it, according to internet news reports and a report from the agency’s tour guide in Egypt.
However, he said that he had received no official confirmation from Egyptian officials about the conditions of the nine Hongkongers people yet.
“Our tour guide did not board the balloon but managed to report back to us that nine of our tour members were on board the balloon when the accident happened,” he said. “We are very sorry about the accident and we send our deepest sympathy to their families.”
The nine were part of a 15-member tour group that was on the fifth day of their 10-day visit to the North African country. The group left for Egypt on February 22.
The nine dead included four men and five women, aged 33 to 62. They came from three families.
The accident took place around 7am in Egypt.
Ng said the 40-minute balloon flight was an optional activity for which the nine tourists had to pay US$190 in addition to their package tour fee. The remaining six members and the tour guide did not take part.
Ng said that according to local employees, the balloon caught fire about an hour after it had set off, plummeting to the ground two minutes later.
An employee at the company operating the balloon, Sky Cruise, said the pilot and one tourist survived by jumping out of the basket before it hit the ground. Both were taken to hospital.
“This is terrible, just terrible,” the local employee said, declining to give her name. “We don’t yet know what happened exactly or what went wrong,” she said.
Ng said Kuoni had a good working relationship with the balloon operator and had done business with it for several years.
He also said the company’s staff members would head for Egypt later on Tuesday to arrange assistance to the tour group and the families of the affected tourists. Meanwhile, three officers from the Immigration Department will also fly to Egypt to help.
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said he was saddened by the fatal accident in Egypt.
He said the Hong Kong government would liaise with the Foreign Ministry’s Hong Kong office and the Chinese embassy in Egypt to help the tour group and the families.
Television footage on Hong Kong’s Cable TV news channel showed emergency service vehicles rushing to the scene of what appeared to be scorched earth where the balloon had landed.
The balloon, which was carrying 21 people, was flying at 300 metres over Qurna, in Luxor’s West Bank, when it caught fire and crashed, an Egyptian security official said.
Luxor is one of Egypt’s most renowned archaeological sites and home to the famous Valley of the Kings and the grand Temple of Hatshepsut.
The two survivors of the accident, including the balloon’s pilot, had been taken to hospital, he said.
Security services cordoned off the scene of the crash in Luxor’s dense sugar cane fields, as police and residents inspected the charred remains of the balloon.
Luxor Governor Ezzat Saad imposed an immediate ban on all hot air balloon flights in the province as Prime Minister Hesham Qandeel ordered an investigation into the accident.
In Japan, tour company JTB said four Japanese tourists were involved in the accident, and two were confirmed dead.
A spokesman at Japan’s foreign ministry said the government was still seeking further information.
Two French tourists were confirmed dead, the French foreign ministry said.
"I can confirm that sadly two of our citizens died in this accident," French foreign ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot said in Paris. "We are in contact with their families."
A British tour company said that two of its guests had also died in the crash.
"We can confirm that two of our guests are in local hospitals, but tragically two of our guests have died in the hot air balloon incident in Luxor, Egypt this morning," the company said in a statement.
The British Foreign Office would not confirm the death toll, saying only that "we believe a small number of British nationals are involved in an incident in Luxor this morning", and that consular staff were offering assistance.
In 2009, 13 foreign tourists were injured when their hot air balloon hit a phone mast and crashed at Luxor. Sources at the time said the balloon was overcrowded.