Thomas Cook defends use of balloon firm

The British survivor of the Luxor balloon disaster was heading home yesterday after he was discharged from hospital in Egypt.

Michael Rennie, 49, was one of just two survivors of the crash that killed 19 people, including his wife Yvonne, 48, and London-based Joe Bampton and his girlfriend Zsi Gyetvai on Tuesday.

Mr Rennie escaped with only minor injuries when he jumped from the balloon before it plummeted to the ground after it caught fire near the Egyptian city.

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The Scotsman has paid tribute to his wife, whom he described as “my rock, my friend, my shoulder to cry on”.

The Britons had been travelling with Thomas Cook and booked their balloon trip – separately from the overall holiday package – with Bright Sky Travel, which Thomas Cook contracts to provide various excursions in Egypt.

The company operating the flight was Sky Cruise, which was also involved in a balloon crash into the Nile in October 2011.

It has been alleged that other balloon owners operating in the area were claiming that Bright Sky Travel had a reputation for maximising its margins and starving them of cash.

But Thomas Cook has insisted that local companies offering balloon trips were fully licensed by Egypt’s aviation authority.

The company said Sky Cruises had been “verified and approved by the Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority”.

A Thomas Cook spokesman said: “We can assure our customers that we insist that the local companies which offer hot air balloon excursions to our guests in Luxor are fully licensed by the Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). In this tragic case, the operator was Sky Cruises, which had been verified and approved by the Egyptian CAA.

“We, like all other major tour operators, rely upon this endorsement by the Egyptian CAA and it is reasonable for us to do so as we rely on their expertise.”