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Egypt hot air balloon crash kills 19 tourists

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Egyptian authorities have launched an investigation after a hot air balloon crashed 1,000 feet to the ground, killing 19 tourists who had taken a sunrise flight near the ancient city of Luxor.

Witnesses described seeing people leaping out of the balloon as it was on fire. The casualties included British, French, Belgian, Hungarian and Japanese nationals and nine tourists from Hong Kong, the Luxor governor, Ezzat Saad, told reporters.

The balloon is believed to have caught fire as it was coming in to land at about 7am on Tuesday. The pilot and a British passenger jumped out, before the ballon ascended swiftly. Flames spread quickly and ignited a gas canister, which exploded.

The balloon then plunged 1,000 feet into into a sugar cane field west of Luxor, which is 320 miles (510km) south of the capital, Cairo.

The tragedy is thought to be the world’s worst ballooning accident. It dealt a fresh blow to Egypt’s tourism industry, which is reeling after two years of political unrest since protests that led to the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Egypt’s civil aviation minister, Wael el-Maadawi, suspended hot air balloon flights and flew to Luxor to lead the investigation into the crash.

The Egyptian pilot was also being treated in hospital on Tuesday. Rescue workers gathered the remains (video) of the dead from the field where the charred remnants of the balloon, gas canisters and other pieces of wreckage landed.

Luxor, which stands on the banks of the river Nile and on the site of the ancient city of Thebes, is a major destination for tourists visiting its many remains and monuments. But tourism is down by 22% since 2010, and brings in 25% less revenue than it did that year. Luxor’s hotels are currently about 25% full in what is supposed to be the peak of the winter season.

Balloon trips, usually at sunrise over the Karnak and Luxor temples as well as the Valley of the Kings, are popular with visitors but concerns have been raised previously about their safety.

In April 2009, 16 people were hurt, including two British women, when a balloon crashed during a tour of Luxor. The balloon was believed to have hit a mobile phone transmission tower near the banks of the Nile. After the crash early morning hot air balloon flights over the Valley of the Kings were suspended for six months while safety measures were tightened up. There were at least four other non-fatal crashes that year involving tourists, including three on one day, and there were also crashes in 2007 and 2008.

Tuesday 26 February 2013, Haroon Siddique, Patrick Kingsley,,

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