Nineteen are dead after a hot air balloon carrying 20 foreign tourists and a pilot crashed near the Egyptian city of Luxor on Tuesday morning. Witnesses describe hearing a loud explosion before turning to see the balloon descending toward the ground in flames as passengers leapt to their deaths trying to escape.
According to ABC News, it is suspected that the balloon was in the process of landing when a cable became caught on a helium tube and ignited the tank. The canister exploded and the balloon plunged into a sugar cane field.
Eighteen of the passengers died on impact while another succumbed to his wounds soon after. Authorities have so far identified nine tourists from Hong Kong, four from Japan, and three Britons among the dead. A British tourist and the Egyptian pilot suffered severe burns and were flown to Cairo for treatment.
Hot air ballooning is a popular activity in Luxor, where tourists can float above the breathtaking Valley of the Kings. The death toll is among the highest ever involving a hot air balloon accident. Tourism has been badly hurt by political instability in the region and Egyptians fear this most recent incident will drive the country’s ailing industry into further decline.