According to The New York Times, British, French, Hong Kong and Japanese nationals are among at least 19 tourists killed in a hot air balloon crash near the Egyptian city of Luxor at approximately 0630 hours earlier today (February 26) local time.
Health Ministry officials said that the dead included nine Hong Kong residents, four Japanese, two Belgians, two British, and two French nationals. Additionally, four other foreign tourists are missing. Three injured passengers, who jumped from the balloon before it exploded, included the pilot.
According to local media, the pilot had been pulling a rope to stabilize the balloon as it landed in a field of sugar cane. Then a gas hose ripped and the fire began. The pilot and two others reportedly leapt from the burning balloon before it soared back up high into the air and burst into flames.
The nine Hong Kong residents who died were from a group of 15 people from three families who had traveled together on a ten-day trip to Egypt, according to Kuoni Travel, the Hong Kong agency that handled arrangements.
The Egyptian Aviation Ministry said it was examining the pilot’s license, experience and the balloon company’s operating permit; a senior official was traveling to Luxor to investigate.
COMMENT: It is safe to say that since the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak two years, foreign tourism in Egypt has continued to plummet and sputter, largely because of security concerns, given frequent and violent street protests.
It is also noteworthy to point out that as in many developing countries, hot-air balloons are in their infancy in Egypt, but have become a major hit amongst tourists because of the panoramic aerial views in the Nile Valley.
Nevertheless, all tourists should keep in mind that the regulation of hot-air balloon is not anywhere close to what one would find in a developed country.
In 2008 and 2009, hot-air balloons crashed into utility poles, injuring passengers, but no deaths were reported.
Militant groups have proliferated around the Sinai Peninsula where Bedouin tribesmen have occasionally kidnapped tourists to try to bargain for the release from jail of some of their family members.
Additionally, demonstrations and strikes closed down the Mediterranean city of Port Said for about a week following clashes last month that resulted in the deaths of two police officers and dozens of civilians.
And, at about the same time, vandals in Cairo capitalized on the chaos surrounding a street protest to loot and ransack the lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel.
Needless to say, all travelers and tourists should use caution with all forms of transportation in Egypt, as accidents are a frequent occurrence.