19 Dead After Hot-Air Balloon In Luxor Plummets To The Earth (Video)

Nine Hong Kong tourists are among the 19 who perished when a hot-air balloon in Luxor, Egypt turned into a fireball and plummeted a few hundred meters to a sugarcane field on the west bank of the Nile river. Only the pilot, who suffered burns on 70 percent of his body, and one other man, believed to be from Hong Kong, survived.

Reuters reports that the cause of the accident, which happened on Tuesday, was a gas explosion:

Konny Matthews, assistant manager of Luxor’s Al Moudira hotel, said she heard an explosion at about 7 a.m. (0500 GMT). “It was a huge bang. It was a frightening bang, even though it was several kilometers away from the hotel,” she said by phone. “Some of my employees said that their homes were shaking.”

Ahmed Aboud, head of an association representing Luxor balloon operators, said the fire had begun in the pipe linking the gas canisters to the burner. He said it was an accident.

The victims were mostly foreign tourists. SCMP reports on those from Hong Kong:

The Hongkongers among them were four men and five women, aged between 33 and 62. Their pilot and one man, believed to be from Hong Kong, are the only survivors.

In the last frantic seconds of the doomed flight, the 20 passengers watched in horror as their pilot jumped from the basket three metres from the ground, his body engulfed in flames.

“His face, arms and stomach were on fire,” said Mohamed Yousses, 27, who was flying a balloon only 100 metres away and witnessed the tragic events as they unfolded. “He was trying to land but there was a gas leak which caused a fire in the basket.”

An eyewitness told SCMP the balloon was already very close to the ground when a “gas explosion” caused it to shoot back up, eventually tearing the balloon. The company operating the vessel was Sky Cruise, which has suspended hot-air balloon services.

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