Luxor resumes hot-air balloon trips for tourists despite pledge after tragedy
Five operators get green light to take off, despite promise of no flights until end of investigation
Egyptian authorities have backtracked on a promise by allowing balloon flights to resume in Luxor yesterday - the first since the February 26 crash that killed 19 people, including nine Hongkongers.
Mohammed Ibrahim Sherif, head of the civil aviation authority, said the balloons were launched in the southern city after safety measures were implemented. He said five out of seven firms had resumed flights.
Authorities had earlier said flights would not resume until an investigation into the tragedy was completed. Sherif said this might take five more weeks.
Alla Mahmoud, sales director of Magic Horizon Balloons in Luxor, told the South China Morning Post: "The renewal of business is good for everybody … 25 people [from my company] came back to life again. We lost around 70,000 to 75,000 US dollars in the past two months … the balloons are now absolutely safe to fly because the pilots checked everything."
But he said Sky Cruise, which owned the ill-fated balloon, remained banned.
Pilot Mohamed Youssef said about 80 people flew on balloons in a two-hour session early yesterday, including a 66-strong delegation of officials and journalists led by Ezzat Saad, Luxor's governor. Fourteen Asian, European and US tourists also flew, he said.
All flights were grounded after the disaster, when a balloon carrying 20 tourists and a pilot caught fire and exploded after a failed landing. A British tourist and the 28-year-old pilot, now recovering in hospital under police guard, were the only survivors.
Andy Fung Chi-yuen, vice-chairman of the Insurance Practitioners General Union - which is helping the families of six uncompensated victims - said it remained unclear whether the insurer, China Merchants Insurance, had paid them anything. The company did pay to bring the bodies home - reportedly for HK$120,000 per body.
"China Merchants Insurance said 'aerial activities' were not insured," Fung said. "But we hope that they can compensate on humanitarian grounds."
China Merchants could not be reached for comment.
Additional reporting by Associated Press