A group of foreign tourists have been killed in a hot air balloon accident in southern Egypt near the city of Luxor. The aircraft crashed following an explosion on board.
At least 19 passengers on board the hot air balloon were killed early Tuesday, after a fire broke out, causing the aircraft to explode and crash into a sugarcane field.
The explosion occurred at 300 meters (1,000 feet), as the balloon was flying over the west bank of the Nile opposite the city of Luxor, which lies about 600 kilometers (370 miles) south of Cairo.
The pilot and one passenger reportedly survived, jumping off the falling aircraft once it was nearing ten to 15 meters from the ground. They were taken to the hospital to be treated for their injuries.
According to Egyptian security officials, the balloon was carrying at least 20 tourists from Hong Kong, France, Britain, Belgium, Hungary and Japan.
It is unclear what started the fire. Egypt's civil aviation minister, Wael el-Maadawi, flew to Luxor to lead the investigation into the crash.
Many tourists travel to the area every year to visit the Valley of the Kings, which houses many of Egypt's pharaonic tombs, including Tutankhamun's. Hot air ballooning, over the temples, usually at sunrise, is a popular tourist attraction in Luxor and observers counted at least eight balloons in the air on Tuesday morning.
There have been crashes before. In 2009 sixteen tourists were injured when their balloon struck a cellphone transmission tower. A year earlier, seven tourists were injured in a similar crash.
Tuesday’s was one of the worst accidents involving tourists in Egypt, where visitor figures have fallen dramatically since the popular uprising in 2011 and the political instability that followed.
Tourism accounted for over a tenth of Egypt's gross domestic product before the revolt, but the number of tourists has dropped from over 14 million in 2010 to under ten million last year.
Currently hotels in Luxor are only 25 per cent booked, although it is the peak of the winter season.
rg/kms (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)