19 dead in balloon crash near Luxor: How will this affect tourism?

19 are reported dead after a balloon crash in Luxor, Egypt. The dawn hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings is popular with tourists, even after the post-Mubarak tourism slump.

Al Jazeera / AP
In these stills from amateur video obtained by Al Jazeera, smoke pours from a hot air balloon over Luxor, Egypt, top left, before bursting, top right, and plummeting about 1,000 feet to earth, bottom left and right, on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013. The balloon crash left 19 people dead.

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.

The balloon came down in farmland a few miles from the Valley of the Kings and pharaonic temples popular with tourists. Rescue workers gathered the dead from the field where the charred remains of the balloon, gas canisters and other pieces of wreckage landed.

One Egyptian was also killed, Health Minister Mohamed Mostafa Hamed told Reuters, listing the other victims as tourists from Japan, China, France, Britain and Hungary. Earlier, officials had said all the dead were foreigners.

The balloon crashed on the west bank of the Nile, where many of the area's major historical sites are located.

Konny Matthews, assistant manager of Luxor's Al Moudira hotel, said she heard an explosion at about 7 a.m. "It was a huge bang. It was a frightening bang, even though it was several kilometres away from the hotel," she said by phone. "Some of my employees said that their homes were shaking."

Ahmed Aboud, head of an association representing Luxor balloon operators, said the fire had begun in the pipe linking the gas canisters to the burner. He said it was an accident.

The deaths were caused by burns and injuries sustained in the fall, said Mohamed Mustafa, a doctor at the hospital where the injured were treated.

The pilot survived by jumping from the basket, Aboud said.

The British government said two British citizens and a British resident of Egypt had been killed. "We can also confirm that one other British national was involved and is in a stable condition," a British foreign ministry statement said.

Two French citizens were killed, according to France's foreign ministry. The Japanese embassy in Cairo said it believed four Japanese had been aboard and had sent staff to Luxor to confirm this.

Transport accidents are frequent in Egypt. Dozens of children were killed in November when the bus they were on collided with a train. Accidents affecting foreign tourists are rarer, but not unusual. Five Germans were killed in December in a bus crash near a Red Sea resort.

A LOUD EXPLOSION

U.S. photographer Christopher Michel, who was on board another balloon, told Britain's Sky News television that the balloon was one of eight flying at the time. "We heard a loud explosion behind us. I looked back and saw lots of smoke. It wasn't immediately clear that it was a balloon," he said.

Hot air ballooning at dawn is popular with tourists, who are a mainstay of the Egyptian economy, although visitor numbers have fallen sharply since a 2011 uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak. Two years of political instability have kept many foreign tourists away.

Tourism accounted for more than a 10th of Egypt's gross domestic product before the revolt. In 2010, about 14.7 million visitors came to Egypt, but this slumped to 9.8 million the next year.

Wael Ibrahim, head of the tour guides' syndicate in Luxor, said he did not expect the accident to make the situation worse for tour operators in the area than it already was. "We've already been affected badly in Egypt," he said.

Some tourists may be more wary of activities like hot air ballooning, he said, but added: "This (type of) accident could happen anywhere in the world."

Last year a balloon plunged to the ground in flames in Slovenia, killing four people and injuring 28.

Egyptian Civil Aviation Minister Wael el-Maadawi said a committee from the ministry was heading to Luxor to investigate the incident. He said hot air balloon flights would be stopped until an investigation into the cause of the accident.

"We cannot say whether this was because of maintenance or human (error) until the investigation committee is completely done with its investigation," he told Al Jazeera TV's Egyptian channel.

(Reporting by Tom Perry, Alexander Dziadosz, Shaimaa Fayed and Asma Alsharif in Cairo, Michael Holden, Estelle Shirbon and Tim Castle in London and Vicky Buffery in Paris; Writing by Tom Perry and Alexander Dziadosz; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer)

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.