LUXOR, Egypt – A hot air balloon flying over Egypt’s ancient city of Luxor  caught fire and crashed into a sugar cane field on Tuesday, killing at least 18  foreign tourists, a security official said.

It was one of the worst accidents involving tourists in Egypt and the  world’s worst of its kind. Egyptian officials fear it will likely push the key  tourism industry deeper into recession.

The casualties included French, British, Belgian, Hungarian, Japanese  nationals and nine tourists from Hong Kong, Luxor Governor Ezzat Saad told  reporters.

Three survivors of the crash – two tourists and one Egyptian – were taken to  a local hospital.

According to the Egyptian security official, the balloon carrying at least  20 tourists was flying over Luxor when it caught fire, which triggered an  explosion in its gas canister, then plunged at least 300 meters (1,000 feet)  from the sky.

It crashed into a sugar cane field outside al-Dhabaa village just west of  Luxor, 510 kilometers (320 miles) south of Cairo, said the official, speaking on  condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

Bodies of the dead tourists were scattered across the field around the  remnants of the balloon. An Associated Press reporter at the crash site counted  eight bodies as they were put into body bags and taken away. The security  official said all 18 bodies have been recovered.

The official said foul play has been ruled out. He also said initial reports  of 19 dead were revised to 18 as confusion is common in the aftermath of such  accidents.

Egypt’s civil aviation minister, Wael el-Maadawi, flew to Luxor to lead the  investigation into the crash.

The head of Japan Travel Bureau’s Egypt branch, Atsushi Imaeda, confirmed  that four Japanese died in the crash. He said two were a couple in their 60s  from Tokyo. Details on the other two were not immediately available.

In Hong Kong, a travel agency said nine of the tourists that were aboard the  balloon were natives of the semiautonomous Chinese city. There was a “very big  chance that all nine have perished,” said Raymond Ng, a spokesman for the  agency. The nine, he said, included five women and four men from three  families.

They were traveling with six other Hong Kong residents on a 10-day tour of  Egypt.

Ng said an escort of the nine tourists watched the balloon from the ground  catching fire around 7 a.m. and plunging to the ground two minutes later.

In Paris, a diplomatic official said French tourists were among those  involved in the accident, but would give no details on how many, or whether  French citizens were among those killed.

Speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to be  publicly named according to government policy, the official said French  authorities were working with their Egyptian counterparts to clarify what  happened. French media reports said 2 French tourists were among the dead but  the official wouldn’t confirm that.

Hot air ballooning, usually at sunrise over the famed Karnak and Luxor  temples as well as the Valley of the Kings, is a popular pastime for tourists  visiting the area.


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