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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Witnesses Describe Scene of Fatal Balloon Crash in Egypt

Witnesses documented the scene in Egypt where a high-altitude balloon carrying tourists burst into flames on Tuesday, describing how some managed to jump out of the passenger basket before the balloon exploded.

As my colleague David D. Kirkpatrick wrote, at least 18 people were killed and three were injured. He quoted Egyptian state media as saying the pilot had been pulling a rope to stabilize the balloon as it landed in a field of sugar cane near the southern city of Luxor. A gas hose ripped, the fire began and the pilot and two passengers reportedly jumped from the burning balloon before it soared back up into the air and burst into flames.

An American photographer, Christopher Michel, was on a balloon trip nearby and linked his @chrismichel Twitter feed to a series of serene shots of the balloons above Luxor before the accident, but none of the burning balloon itself, which he said in an interview with The Telegraph was because the balloon carrying him and other tourists landed in an isolated area.

“I heard the explosion just prior to our landing,” he said. “I saw smoke.” He said over the subsequent hour they started to realize there had been fatalities.

Mr. Michel said he was allowing news organizations free access to his photographs.

Other witnesses described the scene and material posted on social media showed the wreckage, like this footage from Youm 7 of Egypt.

Video Youm 7 footage of the crash scene.

Mahmoud Mohamed Salem, an Egyptian man, took photographs of the crash scene, showing remnants of the balloon and the covered remains of victims, and posted them on his Twitter account, while his Facebook photographs showed the recovery efforts. He described what some of the local workers saw in a France 24 report:

The field workers that are in my photos saw the hot air balloon suddenly explode, and saw passengers jump out of the basket. Someone! from the! company that organized the ride told me that a British person had survived. Firefighters arrived very quickly, as well as the governor of Luxor. Many people came to help get the bodies out of the fields.

Hot air balloon accidents in Egypt have been documented before in videos and in this report in the Daily Telegraph in 2009.

Follow Christine Hauser on Twitter @christineNYT.