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Friday 22 August 2014

Expert seeks to quiz balloon Briton

Published 28/02/2013 | 14:56

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Damaged remains of the hot air balloon lie in a field near Luxor (AP)

Egypt's lead investigator says he is trying to interview Briton Michael Rennie, the only tourist to survive the hot air balloon crash which killed 19 people.

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Mr Rennie jumped from the balloon after it caught fire and before it plummeted to the ground in the southern city of Luxor. He escaped with only minor injuries and no burns, a neurologist who is treating him at a Cairo hospital, said Mahmoud el-Shennawy.

He said Mr Rennie, 49, from Perth, in Scotland, was likely to be discharged from hospital tomorrow and would go straight to the airport. His wife Yvonne, 48, died in the crash. "Some psychiatrists, and myself, talked with him. He seems to be accepting the situation," said Mr el-Shennawy.

The only other survivor - the balloon's Egyptian pilot, who also jumped out - suffered serious burns. The sightseeing balloon on a sunrise flight Tuesday over the ancient monuments of Luxor was carrying 20 tourists from Britain, Hong Kong, Japan, Belgium, Hungary and France. It was landing when a fuel line for the burner heating the air in the balloon broke, sparking a fire, according to preliminary indications, investigators have said.

Mr Rennie and the Egyptian pilot, Momin Murad, managed to escape the balloon's gondola when it was still relatively close to the ground. The balloon then rose back up some 300 metres (1,000 feet). The fire spread to the balloon itself, which burst, sending it plummeting into a sugar cane field. Witnesses have said some of the tourists still trapped in the burning balloon as it rose jumped to their deaths trying to escape.

Mr Rennie told his doctors that "he fell in a muddy area, and this helped him," Mr el-Shennawy said. "There are no fractures. He only has minor bruises ... and scratches."

He has refused to speak to representatives from his own embassy, Mr el-Shennawy said - apparently overwhelmed with grief. Mr Rennie has declined to speak to reporters, and an Associated Press reporter was not allowed access to his room.

The head of the Civil Aviation Authority's technical investigation into the accident, Walid el-Moqadem, said he has asked to speak to Mr Rennie, who Egyptian media said he did speak with a separate, criminal prosecutor investigating the crash to rule out foul play.

Mr Rennie told criminal investigators that most of those in the balloon squatted when the fire broke out, following the pilot's instructions, according to the Egyptian newspaper Al-Watan. Investigators have not yet spoken to the pilot because of his injuries.

Mr El-Moqadem said countries of some of the crash victims have asked to join the probe. He said so far Hong Kong, Britain, Japan and Hungary will not be sending investigators, and will be granted an advisory role in the investigation in line with regulations. He said for now countries of the victims will be told of progress through emails.

Press Association

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