Balloon explodes mid-air in Egypt, kills at least 19

International

DAVID D KIRKPATRICK

A hot-air balloon carrying foreign tourists exploded high in the sky near the southern Egyptian city of Luxor just after dawn Tuesday, killing at least 19 and injuring three in the latest blow to the country's moribund tourist industry.

Health Ministry officials said the dead included nine Hong Kong residents, four Japanese, two Belgians, two British, and two French, Egyptian state media reported, a total of 19, and four people were missing. The Interior Ministry put the total at 18. Officials in London, Paris and Hong Kong said they were in touch with the Egyptian authorities to determine what happened to their citizens.

The three injured survivors, including the pilot, jumped from the balloon as it exploded, state media reported, quoting an unidentified owner of the company that operated the balloon.

State media said around 6:30 am, the pilot had been pulling a rope to stabilize the balloon as it landed in a field of sugar cane. Then a gas hose ripped and the fire began. The pilot and two others reportedly leapt from the burning balloon before it soared back up high into the air and burst into flames. State media reported that the dead had been "cremated" by the explosion.

The Egypt Aviation Ministry said it was examining the pilot's licence and the balloon company's operating permit and a senior official was traveling to Luxor to investigate.

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