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Tourist Tragedy In Egypt: Hot Air Balloon Catches Fire; Many Aboard Killed

Feb 26, 2013
Originally published on February 26, 2013 2:08 pm

The final death toll has not yet been determined, but the number is high. A hot air balloon carrying tourists on a flight over historic sites around the ancient Egyptian city of Luxor caught fire Tuesday. It then plunged to the ground.

NPR's Leila Fadel reports from Cairo that 19 people may have perished. Al-Jazeera puts the current death toll at 18. According to NBC News, at least 14 people were killed — but another four are said to be missing.

Regardless of the final number, "it was the deadliest hot air balloon accident in the world in at least 20 years," says CNN. Those killed included tourists from Japan, Britain, Belgium and France, according to news reports.

As for the cause, NBC reports that:

"There were conflicting accounts of what happened.

"[Ahmed Aboud, who runs another balloon company and acts as a spokesman for balloon operators in the area] said that gas tanks caught fire and ignited the balloon at about 1,000 feet.

"But an eyewitness, who did not want to be identified, said the balloon was about 12 feet off the ground when a landing rope was thrown to people on the ground. As they grabbed it, the rope wrapped around a gas container, which broke and a fire then started. The witness estimated the balloon then 'shot up 500 meters' (1,640 feet) and the pilot 'jumped out as it was going up.' "

According to The Associated Press, "hot air ballooning, usually at sunrise over the famed Karnak and Luxor temples as well as the Valley of the Kings, is a popular pastime for tourists visiting Luxor. The site of the accident has seen past crashes. In 2009, 16 tourists were injured when their balloon struck a cellphone transmission tower. A year earlier, seven tourists were injured in a similar crash."

Update at 2 p.m. ET. Deadliest Ballooning Accident On Record, AP Says:

The wire service now writes that the death toll is 19 and "surpasses what ballooning experts believed to have been the deadliest accident in the sport's 200-year history, a 1989 crash in Australia that left 13 dead."

It has put together a list — "some of the worst accidents involving recreational hot air balloons":

-- "Feb 26, 2013: A hot air balloon flying over Luxor, in southern Egypt, caught fire and plunged 300 meters (1,000 feet) to the ground, crashing into a sugar cane field and killing at least 19 foreign tourists."

-- "Aug. 23, 2012: Six people died and 26 were injured when a hot air balloon carrying 32 people, mostly tourists including some children, caught fire and crashed near the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana."

-- "Jan 07, 2012: A hot air balloon struck power lines near Carterton, New Zealand and exploded, crashing to the ground and killing all 11 people on board."

-- "Oct. 14, 2009: Four Dutch tourists were killed in Guangxi, China, after pilots lost control and their hot air balloon burst into flames and crashed."

-- "Aug. 26, 2001: Six people including a child were killed when their hot air balloon touched a power line at Verrens-Arvey, in southwestern France."

-- "June 17, 1999: Four passengers were killed when their hot air balloon hit a power line near Ibbenburen, Germany."

-- "Jan. 31, 1996: Five people died in the Bernese Alps, Switzerland when their hot air balloon crashed into a mountainside at a height of 2,400 meters (8,000 feet)."

-- "Aug. 8, 1993: Six people were killed when their balloon hit a power line near Aspen, Colorado, tearing off the basket and sending it plunging 30 meters (100 feet) to the ground."

-- "Dec. 11, 1990: Four people died near downtown Columbus, Ohio, after their hot air balloon hit a television tower and deflated."

-- "Oct. 6, 1990: Four people were killed in a balloon crash at Gaenserndorf, near Vienna."

-- "Aug. 13, 1989: Thirteen people were killed when their hot air balloon collided with another over the Australian outback near the town of Alice Springs. The two balloons were flying at an altitude of 600 meters (2,000 feet) when one plunged to the ground after the collision."

-- "Oct. 3, 1982: An explosion on board a hot air balloon carrying 9 people at a festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico killed four people and injured five."

-- "Aug. 6, 1981: Five people were killed and one seriously injured when a hot air balloon caught fire after touching electrical wires and crashed in a suburb of Chicago."

-- "1785: Two Frenchmen attempting to cross the English Channel in a hot-air balloon were killed when their balloon caught fire and crashed, in possibly the first fatal aviation accident."

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