LUXOR, Egypt – A hot air balloon flying over Egypt’s ancient city of LuxorÂ caught fire and crashed into a sugar cane field on Tuesday, killing at least 18Â foreign tourists, a security official said.
It was one of the worst accidents involving tourists in Egypt and theÂ world’s worst of its kind. Egyptian officials fear it will likely push the keyÂ tourism industry deeper into recession.
The casualties included French, British, Belgian, Hungarian, JapaneseÂ nationals and nine tourists from Hong Kong, Luxor Governor Ezzat Saad toldÂ reporters.
Three survivors of the crash – two tourists and one Egyptian – were taken toÂ a local hospital.
According to the Egyptian security official, the balloon carrying at leastÂ 20 tourists was flying over Luxor when it caught fire, which triggered anÂ explosion in its gas canister, then plunged at least 300 meters (1,000 feet)Â from the sky.
It crashed into a sugar cane field outside al-Dhabaa village just west ofÂ Luxor, 510 kilometers (320 miles) south of Cairo, said the official, speaking onÂ condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
Bodies of the dead tourists were scattered across the field around theÂ remnants of the balloon. An Associated Press reporter at the crash site countedÂ eight bodies as they were put into body bags and taken away. The securityÂ official said all 18 bodies have been recovered.
The official said foul play has been ruled out. He also said initial reportsÂ of 19 dead were revised to 18 as confusion is common in the aftermath of suchÂ accidents.
Egypt’s civil aviation minister, Wael el-Maadawi, flew to Luxor to lead theÂ investigation into the crash.
The head of Japan Travel Bureau’s Egypt branch, Atsushi Imaeda, confirmedÂ that four Japanese died in the crash. He said two were a couple in their 60sÂ 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 theÂ balloon were natives of the semiautonomous Chinese city. There was a “very bigÂ chance that all nine have perished,” said Raymond Ng, a spokesman for theÂ agency. The nine, he said, included five women and four men from threeÂ families.
They were traveling with six other Hong Kong residents on a 10-day tour ofÂ Egypt.
Ng said an escort of the nine tourists watched the balloon from the groundÂ catching fire around 7 a.m. and plunging to the ground two minutes later.
In Paris, a diplomatic official said French tourists were among thoseÂ involved in the accident, but would give no details on how many, or whetherÂ French citizens were among those killed.
Speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to beÂ publicly named according to government policy, the official said FrenchÂ authorities were working with their Egyptian counterparts to clarify whatÂ happened. French media reports said 2 French tourists were among the dead butÂ the official wouldn’t confirm that.
Hot air ballooning, usually at sunrise over the famed Karnak and LuxorÂ temples as well as the Valley of the Kings, is a popular pastime for touristsÂ visiting the area.