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Thu Dec 18 22:11:52 SAST 2014

Bodies 'lay scattered in the field'

Sapa-AP | 27 February, 2013 00:06
An Egyptian soldier stands guard near the wreckage of a hot air balloon that crashed in Luxor
An Egyptian soldier stands guard near the wreckage of a hot air balloon that crashed in Luxor February 26, 2013. At least 19 people, most of them Asian and European tourists, died on Tuesday when a hot air balloon caught fire and crashed near the ancient Egyptian town of Luxor after a mid-air gas explosion, officials said.
Image by: MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY / REUTERS

A hot -air balloon flying over Egypt's ancient city of Luxor caught fire and crashed into a sugar cane field yesterday, killing at least 19 foreign tourists.

The casualties included French, British, Belgian, Hungarian, and Japanese nationals, and nine tourists from Hong Kong, Luxor governor Ezzat Saad said.

Three survivors - two Britons and an Egyptian - were taken to a local hospital. One of the Britons died in hospital.

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 balloon, which was carrying 20 tourists and a pilot, was landing after a flight over the southern town when a landing cable caught around a helium tube and a fire erupted, an investigator with the state prosecutor's office said.

The balloon then shot up into the air, the investigator said. The fire set off an explosion of a gas canister and the balloon plunged about 300m to the ground, according to an Egyptian security official.

It crashed in a sugar cane field outside al-Dhabaa village, just west of Luxor, 510km south of Cairo, the official said.

The bodies of the tourists were scattered across the field around the remnants of the balloon.

The security official said all the bodies had been recovered.

Hot-air ballooning is a popular pastime for tourists in Luxor, usually at sunrise to give a dramatic view over the pharaonic temples of Karnak and Luxor, and of the Valley of the Kings in the desert, where many pharaohs, notably Tutankhamun, were buried.

The toll puts the crash among the deadliest involving a recreational hot-air balloon. In 1989, 13 people were killed when their hot-air balloon collided with another in the Australian outback near the town of Alice Springs.

Among the dead yesterday was a Japanese couple in their 60s. They were among four Japanese who were killed, according to the head of Japan Travel Bureau's Egypt branch, Atsushi Imaeda.

In Hong Kong, a travel agency said nine of the tourists on the balloon were from the island.

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