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Egypt Balloon Crash Investigation Underway | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Night watchmen guard the wreckage of a hot air balloon that crashed in Luxor. (R)

Night watchmen guard the wreckage of a hot air balloon that crashed in Luxor. (R)

Night watchmen guard the wreckage of a hot air balloon that crashed in Luxor. (R)

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—As the investigation into one of the deadliest balloon accidents in history gets under way in Egypt, speculation is growing about the future of Egypt’s vital tourism industry.

Egyptian authorities have suspended balloon flights in the province of Luxor, where the crash happened on Tuesday. The hot air balloon was carrying 20 foreign tourists when it caught fire and crashed, killing almost everyone aboard.

The final death toll was 19, and included British, Japanese, Hungarian, Chinese, French and Belgian citizens. There are reported to be two survivors, a British man and the Egyptian pilot, named in press reports as Momin Mourad Ali, both of whom are reported to have jumped from the balloon in an effort to escape the fire. Both were hospitalized, Ali with severe burns.

According to state investigators, the balloon was preparing to land when a fire broke out, which caused the balloon to climb rapidly and led to the explosion of a helium canister. The balloon then fell 300m, crashing in a field outside the village of al-Dhabaa, west of the city of Luxor.

The head of Luxor’s chamber of tourism said: “I don’t want to blame the revolution for everything, but the laxness started with the revolution . . . These people are not doing their job. They are not checking the balloons and they just issue the licences without inspection.”

Egyptian Minister of Civil Aviation, Wael al-Maadawi, told a journalist from Al-Jazeera: “We cannot say whether this was because of maintenance or human [error] until the investigation committee is completely done with its investigation”.

This week’s crash follows several previous incidents, though these did not lead to fatalities. Most prominently, a balloon operation by the same company, Sky Tours, crashed into the Nile in 2011, while another balloon crashed in Luxor after hitting a cell phone tower in 2009, injuring 16 passengers. The latter incident led to a six month suspension of morning balloon flights in the province, while the authorities re-examined safety procedures.

In the wake of the new suspension and the inevitable official scrutiny, many Luxor residents employed in the tourism industry fear for their livelihood. Alaa Mahmoud, sales manager at Magic Horizon tour firm, told London’s Guardian newspaper: “We’re worried about our business . . . We follow the rules and regulations, but over 1,000 people will starve if the balloon business in Egypt is stopped. ”

In addition, Egypt’s ailing tourism industry is also likely to suffer following the disaster. Visitor numbers to the country have fallen by over a fifth since the start of 2010, while revenue has fallen by a quarter.