Families arriving in Egypt to ID balloon crash victims
Japanese travel agent Okumura Hatsuko, holds flowers as she pays respect to Japanese tourists that died from a hot air balloon accident, in Luxor, Egypt, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013. (AP Photo / Nasser Nasser)
Maggie Michael, The Associated Press
Published Wednesday, February 27, 2013 10:03AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, February 27, 2013 1:56PM EST
CAIRO, Egypt -- Relatives of some of the western and Asian tourists killed in a balloon accident arrived in Egypt on Wednesday to identify the bodies of the victims, airport officials said.
Nineteen tourists died when the hot air balloon they were riding caught fire and plummeted about 1,000 feet to the ground Tuesday in the ancient city of Luxor in southern Egypt. One British tourist survived along with the pilot of the balloon, who was badly injured.
The death toll surpassed what was believed by ballooning experts to be the deadliest accident in the sport's 200-year history: In 1989, 13 people were killed when their hot air balloon collided with another over the Australian outback near the town of Alice Springs.
The balloon over Luxor, 510 kilometres (320 miles) south of Cairo, was carrying tourists from France, Britain, Belgium, Japan and Hong Kong plus an Egyptian pilot. The balloon flights provide panoramic views of the ancient Karnak and Luxor temples and the Valley of the Kings, the burial ground of Tutankhamun and other pharaohs.
An airport official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said relatives of nine tourists from Hong Kong arrived in Cairo to identify the bodies of the victims.
The bodies of all the victims were moved on Tuesday to morgues in Cairo. The two survivors were being treated in military hospitals.
According to initial reports, the balloon was in the process of landing after 7 a.m. when a cable got caught around a gas tube and a fire erupted. The balloon plummeted about 1,000 feet to the ground, crashing in a sugar cane field. The bodies of the tourists were scattered across the field around remnants of the balloon.
Authorities suspended hot air balloon flights, a popular tourist attraction here, while investigators determined the cause of the accident.
The tragedy raised worries of another blow to the nation's vital tourism industry, decimated by two years of unrest since the 2011 revolution that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak. The southern city of Luxor has been hit hard, with vacant hotel rooms and empty cruise ships.