Skip to main content

Deadliest balloon crash in decades kills 19 in Egypt

By Mariano Castillo. Saad Abedine and Holly Yan, CNN
updated 5:48 PM EST, Tue February 26, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Conflicting reports emerge over company's safety record
  • A British passenger and the pilot are hospitalized
  • The balloon carried tourists from the UK, Hong Kong, Japan, France and Hungary
  • A gas explosion caused the balloon to fall about 300 meters (almost 1,000 feet)

Were you there? Have you taken such a trip before in Egypt? Send us your experiences.

(CNN) -- The view from above southern Egypt is stunning, a contrast of beige desert valley giving way to green farmland, including fields of sugar cane. Tourists soak in the sight by hiring hot air balloons that have large baskets to carry passengers hundreds of feet above the countryside.

Tuesday morning, as one of the balloons prepared to land, an explosion pierced the air, followed by a spreading billow of smoke.

"My first thought was that it was sugar cane that was burning," said Christopher Michel, a photographer who was a passenger in another balloon at the time.

Smoke from the burning sugar cane painted the ancient city of Luxor below with an eerie haziness.

But the concern shown by the balloon pilot and the blaring sirens from emergency vehicles told Michel that something was wrong. He could not imagine the extent: One of the balloons had exploded, and its 21 passengers and operators plummeted about 1,000 feet (300 meters) to the ground.

By Tuesday afternoon, the number of dead had climbed to 19, making it the world's deadliest hot air balloon accident in at least 20 years.

"This juxtaposition of this great beauty and this wonderful country and this horrible tragedy is just really shocking," Michel told CNN. "We all feel terrible."

It was an early, dark morning, Michel said, and uneventful for 45 minutes until they started to descend. He was overlooking mud-brick buildings and fields, with the Valley of the Kings in the distance, when the explosion shattered the quiet of the morning.

It was a gas explosion, state-run EgyNews reported.

Egyptians inspect the site where a hot air balloon exploded over the city of Luxor on Tuesday, February 26. Eighteen tourists were killed when the balloon dropped almost 1,000 feet (about 300 meters), authorities said. Three people were injured. Egyptians inspect the site where a hot air balloon exploded over the city of Luxor on Tuesday, February 26. Eighteen tourists were killed when the balloon dropped almost 1,000 feet (about 300 meters), authorities said. Three people were injured.
Fatal hot air balloon crash
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
>
>>
Photos: Fatal hot air balloon crash Photos: Fatal hot air balloon crash
19 killed, 2 injured in balloon crash
Tourists killed in hot air balloon blast

Passengers in the balloon included 19 foreign tourists: nine from Hong Kong, four from Japan, three from Britain, two from France and one from Hungary, officials said.

An Egyptian pilot and another Egyptian also were on board, Luxor province spokesman Badawi al-Masri said.

Two people -- a Briton and the pilot -- are hospitalized.

Balloon rides offering panoramic aerial views of the Nile River and the ancient temples of Karnak and Hatshepsut are a popular tourist attraction in Luxor, about a nine-hour drive southeast of Cairo.

"You can see Valley of the Kings in the background bordered by farmland," Pauline Liang of Vancouver, Canada, told CNN's iReport last year. "Below were banana farms, and behind us was the city of Luxor. There was a great contrast between desert landscape, lush farmland and urban development."

Tuesday's crash prompted Gov. Izzat Saad of Luxor province to ban all hot air balloon flights until further notice.

Conflicting reports emerged about the company that operated the doomed balloon, Sky Cruise.

The head of the country's civil aviation authority said the company was licensed and working legally, EgyNews reported.

The agency has begun an investigation of the incident, Mohammed Ibrahim Sharif said.

According to Sharif, a fire broke out in the balloon while the workers were trying to land it, just feet from the ground. The balloon then shot upwards again, he said.

The balloon's basket was divided into four parts, he said, each holding five passengers.

Meanwhile, Luxor's chamber of tourism said the company had previous violations, EgyNews reported.

Several balloon companies had terminated contracts with the local meteorological service after the Egyptian revolution, Tharwat Agami, chairman of the chamber of tourism, said.

Sky Cruise and other companies were known to violate safety and security instructions by flying out of East Luxor, instead of the recommended West Luxor, he said.

Comparing it to a previous hot air balloon experience in another country, Michel noted that there was no safety briefing before the Luxor balloons lifted off the ground, but added that he felt safe during the trip.

From what he could tell, the doomed balloon was not overloaded, he said on his Twitter account.

Luxor is among Egypt's top tourist draws. Visitors go to see ancient temples and tombs, and travel sites often recommend the hot air balloon trips.

The last hot air balloon accident in Luxor occurred in 2009, when 16 foreign tourists were injured after a balloon struck a cell phone transmission tower.

Until Tuesday's incident, the deadliest accident in recent memory took place in 1989, when 13 people were killed as two hot air balloons collided in Australia.

Egyptian government spokesman Alaa Hadidi announced that the Cabinet will form a committee from the Ministry of Civil Aviation to investigate Tuesday's accident, EgyNews said.

CNN's Housam Ahmed and Hamdi Alkhshali, along with journalist Adam Makary in Cairo, contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:23 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wilson Raj Perumal tells CNN how he rigged World Cup games: "I was giving orders to the coach."
updated 4:23 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
He should be toddling around a playground. Instead, his tiny hands grip an AK-47.
updated 12:52 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
CNN's Will Ripley travels to North Korea, visiting an international wrestling festival and a slide-filled water park.
updated 5:20 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Our whole solar system appears to be inside a searing gas bubble, scientists say.
updated 8:30 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
In a raid on a luxury apartment complex, agents caught up with a French-Algerian man they accuse of bringing back terror to Europe.
updated 8:02 PM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
One journalist murdered, another still being held by ISIS -- a ransom negotiator talks to CNN about trying to get a hostage home alive.
updated 8:28 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Was a police officer justified in shooting and killing Michael Brown?
updated 12:54 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Don't like the country you live in? Meet the people who created their own "micronations."
updated 2:35 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
South Africa Music Legends stamps
Artist Hendrik Gericke puts a spotlight on iconic performers from South Africa in these incredible monochrome illustrations.
updated 5:46 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
We asked you what you would like to know about Ebola. Experts answer some of your most common questions and concerns.
CNN joins the fight to end modern-day slavery by shining a spotlight on its horrors and highlighting success stories.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT