By: Emily Crane
At the request of Prime Minister Hesham Qandil, official investigations have begun into the hot air balloon crash near Luxor on Tuesday morning that killed at least 18 foreign tourists and injured two. An initial inspection revealed no signs of criminal or terrorist intent behind the crash, according to Mohamad Fahmi, Prosecutor General for Luxor and Qena.
In addition to the prosecutor general’s investigation, the Ministry of Civil Aviation has formed a committee of engineers to investigate the site of the crash. They have determined that the balloon belonged to Sky Cruise Egyptian Airship and Balloon and was purchased from a Spanish manufacturer called Ultra Magic, according to a press release by the Ministry on Tuesday.
The balloon was manufactured in 2008 and was expected to last ten years, said the Minister of Civil Aviation, Wael El Madaoui, in a press conference on Tuesday evening. It had passed inspection earlier this month and its licence was not due to expire until next October, El Madaoui said.
The cause of the fire and subsequent crash remain unknown. El Madaoui reported that the balloon suddenly caught fire as the pilot was throwing down the landing ropes at a height of around five metres. The pilot jumped from the vessel, leaving the gas pipelines open which caused the balloon to regain altitude and fall from 300 metres in the air. Amateur video footage of the crash has been posted to YouTube.
The bodies of the deceased were so badly burned that it has been difficult to identify some, according to Mr. Nakagawa, press secretary for the Japanese embassy. Though they have been able to confirm that four Japanese citizens are among the deceased, they have been unable to determine their gender or age.
The British embassy has identified three British nationals and one British permanent resident who were aboard the balloon, according to Jennifer Upton of the embassy press office. Only one British national survived, Upton said. Contrary to a report made by state-owned news agency MENA on Wednesday morning, the embassy has not demanded a part in the investigation.
“If they ask for help, we’ll be more than happy to assist,” Upton said. “But for right now, our assistance has not been requested or offered.”
In an official statement on Wednesday morning, the Minister of Foreign Affairs extended his condolences to the families of the deceased, assuring them that the Egyptian government would take all necessary action to return the bodies to their respective countries as soon as possible.
Pending the outcome of the investigation, all further hot air balloon excursions have been cancelled.
Local tour guide Ahmad Rabi is worried about the implications of this incident for the tourism industry in Luxor and Aswan. “High tourist season is supposed to be from January until the end of March,” he said. “But I’m afraid this accident marks the end of our season for this year.”