26 February 2013 Last updated at 19:31 GMT
Egypt suspends Luxor balloon flights after deadly crash
Tourists on a second balloon watched in horror as the tragedy unfolded
The Egyptian authorities have suspended all hot air balloon flights near Luxor and launched an investigation following the deaths of 19 tourists in a crash.
Hong Kong, Japanese, British, French and Hungarian nationals were among those killed on Tuesday morning.
A landing rope is reported to have got caught around a helium gas tube and severed it, after which a fire erupted and the balloon shot up into the air.
It then plunged some 300m (1,000ft) to the ground in a field west of the city.
The pilot and one passenger survived by jumping out of the basket.Burns
Balloon rides are a popular way to see the numerous ancient sites which line the banks of the River Nile at Luxor, in the south of Egypt, such as the temple of Karnak and the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings.
The balloon which crashed was one of at least nine which took off in a field north of Luxor, on the west bank of the Nile, at dawn on Tuesday.
It was operated by the local company, Sky Cruise, which said a gas cylinder had exploded on board when it was about 300m in the air.
An investigator with the state prosecutor's office told the Associated Press that the balloon had been in the process of landing at around 07:00 (05:00 GMT) when a landing cable got caught around a helium tube and a fire erupted on board.
The balloon then quickly gained altitude before the fire caused the gas canister to explode and it fell to the ground in a sugar cane field outside the village of al-Dhabaa, west of Luxor, an Egyptian security official said.
Mohammed Youssef, a pilot of another balloon which was in the air nearby at the time, told the Guardian newspaper that the fire started when it was 3m from the ground and was caused by a gas leak.
The pilot and a British passenger jumped to safety when the fire erupted, which affected the balance of the balloon, sending more heat into its "envelope" and causing it to climb rapidly, he said. About five or six other people leapt out when it was about 30m off the ground, he added.
"People were jumping out of the balloon from about the height of a seven-storey building," Cherry Tohamy, an Egyptian who was in another balloon, told the BBC. Ambulances arrived 15 minutes later, she said.
Egypt's health ministry said nine tourists from Hong Kong, four Japanese nationals, two British, two French, one Hungarian and an Egyptian had died.
The Hungarian is understood to have been a UK resident, while another Briton is in a stable condition in hospital in the capital, Cairo.
Mr Youssef said he was a close friend of the pilot. He said his father had visited the pilot, who was conscious but had suffered 70% burns.
The governor of Luxor, Ezzat Saad, told the BBC he wanted to send his condolences to the families of those killed and injured.
"We have never seen anything quite like this in Luxor before. It is an awful thing," he said.
"For the safety of the tourists and the Egyptians I have ordered all the companies dealing with balloons to stop flights until we know exactly what happened and the reasons for it."
Civil Aviation Minister Wael al-Maadawi said a committee from the ministry was travelling to Luxor to investigate the incident.
"We cannot say whether this was because of maintenance or human [error] until the investigation committee is completely done with its investigation," he told al-Jazeera TV's Egyptian channel, Mubasher Misr.
The BBC's Aleem Maqbool, who is in Luxor, says there have been concerns about safety since a balloon crashed after hitting a mobile phone transmission tower in April 2009, injuring 16 people, including two British women.
Balloon flights in the area were suspended for six months after the crash while safety measures were tightened up and pilots retrained.
Fiery balloon accident kills 19 tourists in Egypt
BY MAGGIE MICHAEL
LUXOR, Egypt -- The terror lasted less than two minutes: Smoke poured from a hot air balloon carrying sightseers on a sunrise flight over the ancient city of Luxor, it burst in a flash of flame and then plummeted about 1,000 feet to earth. A farmer watched helplessly as tourists trying to escape the blazing gondola leaped to their deaths.
Nineteen people were killed Tuesday in what appeared to be the deadliest hot air ballooning accident on record. A British tourist and the Egyptian pilot, who was badly burned, were the sole survivors.
The tragedy raised worries of another blow to the nation's vital tourism industry, decimated by two years of unrest since the 2011 revolution that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak. The southern city of Luxor has been hit hard, with vacant hotel rooms and empty cruise ships.
It also prompted accusations that authorities have let safety standards decline amid the political turmoil and infighting, although civil aviation officials said the balloon had been inspected recently and that the pilot may have been to blame, jumping out rather than stopping the fire.
Authorities suspended hot air balloon flights, a popular tourist attraction here, while investigators determined the cause.
The balloon was carrying 20 tourists - from France, Britain, Belgium, Japan and Hong Kong - and an Egyptian pilot on a flight over Luxor, 510 kilometers (320 miles) south of Cairo, officials said. The flights provide spectacular views of the ancient Karnak and Luxor temples and the Valley of the Kings, the burial ground of Tutankhamun and other pharaohs.
According to initial indications, the balloon was in the process of landing after 7 a.m. when a cable got caught around a helium tube and a fire erupted, according to an investigator with the state prosecutor's office.
The balloon then ascended rapidly, the investigator said. The fire detonated a gas canister and the balloon plunged about 300 meters (1,000 feet) to the ground, crashing in a sugar cane field outside al-Dhabaa village just west of Luxor, a security official said.
Both the investigator and the security official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
"I saw tourists catching fire and they were jumping from the balloon," said Hassan Abdel-Rasoul, a farmer in al-Dhabaa. "They were trying to flee the fire but it was on their bodies."
One of those on fire was a visibly pregnant woman, he said.
Amateur video taken from another balloon and shown on Al-Jazeera Mubasher television showed the balloon's final moments.
Smoke is seen rising for several seconds from the gondola, silhouetted against the risen sun. The balloon itself catches fire with a flash, and in an instant, it bursts and falls as a fireball to the ground, trailing smoke. Egyptians on the balloon filming the scene can be heard crying and gasping in horror at the sight.
The bodies of the tourists were scattered across the field around the remnants of the balloon, as rescue officials collected the remains.
The crash immediately killed 18, according to Luxor Gov. Ezzat Saad. Two Britons and the pilot were taken to a hospital, but one of the Britons died of his injuries soon after.
Among the dead were nine tourists from Hong Kong, four Japanese - including a couple in their 60s - two French, a Belgian and a second Briton, according to Egyptian officials, although there were conflicting reports on the nationality of the 19th victim.
Associated Press writers Haggag Salama in Luxor, Kelvin Chan in Hong Kong, Jill Lawless in London and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.