26 February 2013
Last updated at 15:25
Two Britons and a UK resident have died after a hot air balloon crashed near Luxor in Egypt, the Foreign Office has said.
Reports suggest 19 people were killed, including French, Hong Kong and Japanese citizens.
Another Briton is being treated in hospital and a pilot is also thought to have survived.
The balloon was 1,000 ft (300m) up when it exploded, caught fire and plunged on to agricultural fields west of Luxor.
Travel company Thomas Cook said the British citizens and resident were its customers and the accident was a “terrible tragedy”.
It said the injured Briton was “stable and well”.
The four had been on holiday and were among more than 20 people in the balloon when it crashed to the ground in flames.
A Foreign Office spokesman said: “The next of kin have been informed and our thoughts are with them and their families at this difficult time. We are providing them with consular assistance. We can also confirm that one other British National was involved and is in a stable condition.
“We have had consular officials in Luxor since early this morning who have been focussed on providing consular assistance and supporting the Egyptian authorities. Our ambassador to Egypt has met the injured British National and has offered our assistance”.
Thomas Cook said it was working closely with the Foreign Office and the authorities in Egypt.
The travel company has set up an emergency phone line for concerned relatives on 0800 107 5638. It has about 150 customers in the Luxor area at present.
Thomas Cook UK and Europe chief executive Peter Fankhauser said: “The thoughts of everyone in Thomas Cook are with our guests, their family and friends.
“We’re providing our full support to the family and friends of the deceased at this difficult time.”
Luxor lies on the banks of the River Nile in the south of the country, and has long been a popular tourist destination.
The crash happened on one of the many dawn hot air balloon flights that give tourists a view of Luxor’s tourist attractions, such as Karnak temple and the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings.
Thomas Cook said it had temporarily suspended sales of hot air balloon rides in Egypt.
The balloon’s operating company, Sky Cruise, confirmed that a gas cylinder had exploded on board the balloon, bringing it down.
Holidaymaker Cherry Tohamy was in another balloon that was landing when she heard an explosion and saw flames from a balloon above.
She told the BBC: “Our pilot told us that the balloon had hit a high pressure electrical cable and a cylinder on board exploded. People were jumping out of the balloon from about the height of a seven-storey building.”
She added that ambulances had arrived at the scene within 15 minutes.
Hot air balloon crashes have happened in Luxor before. Two British women were among 16 injured when their balloon came down after hitting a communications tower in April 2009.
Balloons were grounded for six months after that crash while safety measures were tightened and pilots were re-trained by Egypt’s Civil Aviation Authority.
Linda Lea, 67, a retired policewoman from Stoke-on-Trent, who had four months of hospital treatment after the 2009 crash that left her with 26 broken bones, said the latest incident brought back painful memories.
“It’s the opportunity. You’ve got to see the whole spectrum and the whole vista of the Valley of the Kings,” she told the BBC as she digested news of another crash.
“If you’re interested in Egyptian history it’s a unique opportunity to do that.”
The balloon Mrs Lea flew in hit a mobile phone mast, ripping the balloon and causing an explosion that brought it crashing down. Fire also brought down the balloon in Tuesday’s Luxor crash.
“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,” she said.
Mark Packer, from London, who went on a balloon in Luxor earlier this month, said he was left “scared” by his experience.
He said the pilots did not appear to treat the equipment carefully and his flight hit a tree.
“They go up to 800 or 1,000 feet, then bring the balloon down and across the temples at a low height,” he told the BBC.
“I’m not saying they’re not experienced pilots, but they are dragging the baskets through the sugar canes… The pilot broke off a piece of sugar cane to give to us.”
Egypt balloon crash: Two Britons and UK resident die – BBC News
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