At 7am on Tuesday, a frightful explosion rocked Luxor, where ancient Egyptian antiquities draw scores of tourists each year. The blast that engulfed a hot air balloon in mid air was heard and felt several kilometers away. One Egyptian and 18 foreign tourists are said to have died and the Civil Aviation Minister told Reuters that a committee is en route to the scene to investigate whether this accident that could have been prevented.
In addition to being a tragedy for the visitors who were killed and for their family, it’s hard not to think this will further slacken the country’s flailing tourism industry, causing even more economic and social problems for the beleaguered North African country.
A leak in the pipe linking the hot air balloon’s gas canisters and burners caught fire and the balloon exploded before plunging to the ground on the west bank of the Nile River, according to witnesses.
“It was a huge bang. It was a frightening bang, even though it was several kilometers away from the hotel,” Konny Matthews, assistant manager of Luxor’s Al Moudira hotel told Reuters.
“Some of my employees said that their homes were shaking.”
Hospital officials who treated the wounded said that the passengers from Britain, China, Egypt, France, Japan and Hungary died either from the burns or from the fall.
One British national survived the crash and remains in stable condition. The pilot also survived by jumping out of the balloon’s basket after it caught fire.
Tourism used to be one of the main drivers of Egypt’s economy but the ensuing instability and ceaseless reports of harassment and violence in mainstream news have deterred many foreign visitors and small businesses that rely on them have been struggling.
But Wael Ibrahim, head of the tour guides’ syndicate in Luxor, told the paper that he doesn’t expect this accident, which he said could have happened anywhere in the world, will make a significant difference.
Egyptian Civil Aviation Minister Wael el-Maadawi said that all hot air balloons in the Luxor area will be grounded until his ministry concludes their investigation.
Stock image of Luxor hot air balloons, Shutterstock