Tourists leap to deaths as Luxor sightseeing flight ends in horror

WITNESSES to the hot air balloon tragedy in Egypt have described seeing passengers jump to their deaths from the doomed craft after it exploded at more than 1,000ft and crashed into a sugar cane field below.

Bodies were seen scattered around the remnants of the balloon after yesterday’s accident, which killed 19 tourists, including three from Britain. Only a fourth Briton and the pilot, who is believed to be Egyptian, survived.

Cherry Tohamy, an Egyptian living in Kuwait on holiday in Luxor, was in another balloon when she heard an explosion and saw flames from a balloon above.

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“Our pilot told us that the balloon had hit a high pressure electrical cable and a cylinder on board exploded,” she said.

“People were jumping out of the balloon from about the height of a seven-storey building.”

There were reports that a hose attached to the craft’s gas tanks was cut while workers were trying to tug the rope of the balloon during landing, causing an explosion.

The balloon then rose 1,300ft into the air and caught fire before hurtling to the ground.

US photographer Christopher Michel was in another balloon, taking some aerial shots, when the incident happened at about 7am local time.

“We flew over the ancient ruins. Just before landing in the cornfields, I heard an explosion and saw smoke. I think it was the balloon behind mine,” he said.

“I wasn’t sure what had happened at first. It was only when we landed we heard the full extent of what happened.”

Mr Michel, who previously made a balloon excursion with an English pilot, said the Egyptian operation “didn’t feel quite as professional” as that of his first voyage.

He added: “It’s really, really tragic and everyone involved is in a lot of shock.”

Air balloon tour operator Sky Cruise confirmed there were just two survivors, including the pilot, who is in a serious condition in hospital.

Tour operator Thomas Cook initially announced that two Britons had survived the crash but later revealed that one of the two, believed to have suffered 70 per cent burns, had since died.

The survivor was flown to hospital in Cairo more than 300 miles away. The four Britons were believed to have been among nine people who had jumped from the balloon.

The other tourists, including holidaymakers from France, Hong Kong and Japan, were all thought to have died in the explosion.

Authorities in Luxor, where there have been previous balloon crashes, have suspended all balloon flights and an investigation is under way.

The excursions, usually at sunrise over the Karnak and Luxor temples as well as the Valley of the Kings, are popular with British visitors to Egypt.

Sixteen people were hurt, including two British women, when a balloon crashed in the area in April 2009. That craft was believed to have hit a mobile phone transmission tower near the banks of the Nile.

Following the 2009 crash, early morning hot air balloon flights over the Valley of the Kings on the West Bank of the Nile were suspended for six months while safety measures were tightened up.

During the break, all 42 pilots from the eight companies 
who operate flights had extra training.

Other initiatives to improve safety brought in included confining all take-offs to a new balloon “airport” and limiting the maximum number of balloons up at the same time to eight – previously as many as 50 could share the air space.

Former policewoman Linda Lea, 67, from Stoke-on-Trent, 
still suffers from the multiple 
injuries she sustained in the incident.

“I cannot believe this has happened again,” she said.

“They promised to tighten safety procedures after my crash. Flights were stopped for a time.

“These balloons are just too unstable. There is not enough training of staff. There were about 22 or 23 in my balloon when it crashed and maybe there was too many then and too many in today’s accident.”

Concerned relatives of guests in the resort can contact Thomas Cook’s hotline on 0800 107 5638.