'Third Briton dies in hospital' after Egypt hot air balloon crash which killed 19

Chris Parsons
Yahoo! News26 February 2013

One of the British survivors of the Luxor hot air balloon crash has died in hospital in Egypt, taking the UK death toll to three, it was reported this afternoon.

The horrific crash this morning claimed the lives of 18 tourists, with only two Britons and the Egyptian pilot initially surviving.

But one of the two Britons left in a critical condition has now died, according to Luxor International Hospital.

The early morning tragedy happened when a balloon exploded and caught fire, before plunging into a sugar cane field west of Luxor, which is 320 miles (510km) south of the capital Cairo.

It is thought the balloon burst into flames in mid-air after a gas explosion at an altitude of 1,000ft.

Holiday operator Thomas Cook said two Britons had been killed, with a third passing away this afternoon in hospital.

The casualties are also believed to include French tourists, as well as other nationalities, a security official in the country said.

A spokesman for air balloon tour operator Sky Cruise said there were two survivors, including the pilot, who is in a serious condition in hospital.

He said it was believed there were "about four" Britons on board.

The Foreign Office would not confirm the number of British casualties, but said they are 'urgently liaising' with overseas authorities.

Witness Christopher Michel described the carnage on Twitter, where he posted a series of photographs showing the balloons ahead of the flight.

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"It was the balloon behind mine. I heard a loud explosion and saw smoke," he said.

Hamdy Shabaan, operations manager at another operator, Sinbad hot air balloons, said the basket was on fire when it fell to the ground.

He said there would be no more flights today as they are restricted to take place between 6 and 8am.

Pictures from the scene showed one casualty in a body bag on the ground in front of an ambulance.

Mr Michel, who previously made a balloon excursion with an English pilot, said the Egyptian operation "didn't feel quite as professional" as that of his first voyage.

The US photographer was taking aerial photographs at the time of the crash.

He told the BBC: "We flew over the ancient ruins. Just before landing in the cornfields, I heard an explosion and saw smoke. I think it was the balloon behind mine.

"I wasn't sure what had happened at first. It was only when we landed we heard the full extent of what happened."

He added: "It's really, really tragic and everyone involved is in a lot of shock."

An AP reporter at the crash site said he saw eight bodies being put into body bags and taken away.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We are aware of the reports and we are making urgent inquiries with the authorities in Egypt."

UK travel organisation Abta was seeking more information about the accident, as were the UK holiday companies who have people in Luxor at the moment.

One company with clients in the area is Thomas Cook. "We are getting in contact with our people in Luxor to get the very latest news," said a Thomas Cook spokesman.

He went on: "Luxor is a popular spot for us and a number of tourists go on balloon trips."

Hot air balloon trips usually take place at sunrise over the Karnak and Luxor temples as well as the Valley of the Kings.

Sixteen people were hurt, including two British women, when a balloon crashed during a tour of Luxor in April 2009.

The balloon was believed to have hit a mobile phone transmission tower near the banks of the Nile.

Former policewoman Linda Lea, 67, from Stoke-on-Trent, still suffers from the multiple injuries she sustained in that crash.

She said today: "I cannot believe this has happened again. They promised to tighten safety procedures after my crash. Flights were stopped for a time.

"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."

Following the 2009 crash, early morning hot air balloon flights over the Valley of the Kings on the West Bank of the Nile were suspended for six months while safety measures were tightened up.

During the break, all 42 pilots from the eight companies who operate flights had extra training.

Other initiatives to improve safety brought in included confining all take-offs to a new balloon "airport" and limiting the maximum number of balloons up at the same time to eight - previously as many as 50 could share the air space.

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