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Sunday 8 December 2019

Tourist killed as hot-air balloon crash-lands in Egypt

Hot air balloon. Stock image
Hot air balloon. Stock image
Egyptian officials said the incident was caused by strong winds blowing the balloon off course

A hot-air balloon on a sightseeing trip over the southern Egyptian city of Luxor crash-landed on Friday, killing a tourist from South Africa and injuring seven other people.

Officials said the incident was caused by strong winds that forced the balloon, which was carrying 20 tourists, off course above the ancient city, home to some of Egypt's most remarkable historic temples and tombs.

The balloon took off shortly before sunrise and flew about 45 minutes at an altitude of 1,476ft (450m) before the pilot lost control due to the strong wind, forcing a crash-landing in a mountainous area, the officials said.

The officials said the dead tourist was South African, but no details were immediately available on the nationalities of the other victims. The remaining 12 tourists were unhurt.

Other balloons had taken off around the same time but landed safely, the officials added.

Earlier in the day, Egypt's meteorological service had warned of strong winds across the country, mainly in the Nile River delta and northern Egypt.

There have been other incidents involving hot-air balloons over ancient Luxor.

The deadliest happened in 2013 when a balloon flying over the city caught fire and plunged about 1,000ft (305m) to the ground, crashing into a sugar cane field and killing at least 19 foreign tourists.

In 2016, Egypt temporarily halted balloon flights after 22 Chinese tourists suffered minor injuries in a crash-landing.

Over the years, Egypt has tightened safety rules for balloon rides, which are now monitored by cameras and banned from flying above 2,000m (6,562ft).

Hot-air balloon flights above Luxor are famous among tourists because of the spectacular views of the ancient Karnak and other temples.

Such flights usually start before sunrise and pass over green fields leading to the Valley of the Kings - the burial site of famous boy king Tutankhamun and other pharaohs.

Egypt's vital but ailing tourism industry, partially driven by sightseeing, has been hit hard by extremist attacks and political turmoil following the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

In 2015, tourism was dealt a blow when the Islamic State group's affiliate in Egypt downed a Russian passenger plane over the Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people on board.

Egypt never officially said what caused the Russian aircraft but IS said it blew up the plane with a bomb smuggled on board.

After that attack, Russia imposed a ban on all flights to Egypt and Egypt's national carrier is still barred from flying to Russia.

Since then, the Egyptian government has been trying to draw tourists back to the country by announcing ancient discoveries and tightening security measures around tourist sites.

PA Media

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