Bristol balloonists mourn the death of 19 tourists in Luxor, Egypt after hot air balloon crash
THE Bristol ballooning community has spoken of its sadness following the air disaster that cost the lives of 19 tourists in Egypt today.
At dawn, a hot air balloon burst into flames in a gas explosion at 1,000ft (300m) and came down near Luxor.
British, French, Chinese and Japanese tourists had been enjoying a trip over ancient ruins when tragedy struck.
It has been confirmed that three British nationals have now died and another is in a critical condition after what is thought to be the deadliest ballooning disaster in history.
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The Egyptian pilot of the balloon operated by Sky Cruise is the only other survivor and is in the hospital with 70 per cent burns.
Cameron Balloons managing director Alan Noble said he was 95 per cent sure the balloon involved was not a Cameron one.
Aircraft made by the world-renowned Bedminster-based manufacturer fly all over the globe.
“When tragedies like this happen, it does hurt us personally,” he told The Post.
“When I heard the news first thing this morning I thought of the people involved, but I also thought, do I know the pilot?
“The ballooning community is a close-knit one and this is very, very upsetting for Bristol, because Cameron is the biggest balloon manufacturer in the world and here in Bristol we probably see more balloons flying than anywhere else.”
Clive Bailey, the director and chief pilot of Bailey Balloons, based in Ham Green, said: “Any accident is terrible. What has happened to day is absolutely awful and very sad.
“I will be very interested to find out what has caused the accident. Ballooning is one of the safest forms of aviation and equipment failure is extremely rare.”
Eye-witnesses said there was a fire and a huge bang before the balloon plunged from the sky and crashed into sugar cane fields west of Luxor.
Tour operator Kuoni confirmed there were nine Chinese nationals on board and early reports suggest there were also two British victims, two French tourists and four from Japan.
There were about eight balloons flying in that area this morning and it has not yet been confirmed by the Foreign Office how many Brits were involved, or died.
In April 2009, 16 people were hurt, including two British women, when a balloon crashed during a tour of Luxor.
It was believed to have hit a mobile phone transmission tower near the banks of the Nile.
Mr Noble said: “The Egyptians took that accident very seriously. They grounded all of their balloons for six months and British pilots and examiners came over to train their pilots and make sure all the balloons were safe.
“So, what we can say is that the last time there was an accident the authorities reacted very positively.
“I was in a balloon flying over Luxor only last year. It was fantastic passing over all the ancient ruins.
“When I was over there, I didn’t see anything that caused me any concern.
“Ballooning is actually very safe, but when there is an accident, due to the nature of ballooning, it is often very serious and balloons can carry quite a lot of people these days.”
The company that operates flights over Luxor is called Aboud, which represents about eight ballooning companies.
The trips are popular with tourists as they take in the Karnak and Luxor temples as well as the Valley of the Kings.
The previous highest death toll for a balloon crash was in 1989, when 13 people were killed after two hot air balloons collided in Alice Springs, Northern
Territory, Australia. The mid-air collision happened as one hot air balloon ascended, smashing into another carriage above it.
The cause of today’s crash has not yet been confirmed.