Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Survivor watched in horror as wife killed in Egypt balloon fireball

Egyptians gather at the site of a balloon crash
Egyptians gather at the site of a balloon crash

A British traveller who survived yesterday's hot air balloon disaster was forced to watch as his wife and 18 other passengers died when fire engulfed their basket 1,000ft above the ground.

Michael Rennie from Perth, Scotland – the only tourist to survive – managed to escape largely unharmed after the balloon encountered difficulties on a dawn flight near Luxor, Egypt.

But the other passengers – including his wife, Yvonne, and another British man who later died of his injuries – were trapped when the balloon lurched up into the sky after an aborted landing.

Witnesses described seeing tourists leaping to their deaths, their clothes burning as they fell. Doctors at Luxor International Hospital said that many of those who died suffered severe burns and massive internal injuries.

"Everybody in the village was crying after what we saw," said Hussein Yasin (40). "We tried to save some of the people but there was nothing we could do."

Mr Rennie and his wife had been staying at the five-star Sonesta St George hotel in Luxor as part of a Thomas Cook package holiday. Early yesterday they set off to one of the balloon launch sites amid the villages and sugar cane fields on the Nile's west bank.

After meeting their fellow passengers – who included tourists from France, Belgium, Hungary, Hong Kong and Japan – they lifted off with their Egyptian pilot into the sky above the patchwork of farms and monuments below.

Eight other balloons also set off at the same time but, shortly after dawn, at around 7am, one encountered difficulties.

State investigators said a fire erupted in the balloon's basket after landing ropes became tangled around one of its gas tubes.

Luxor's governor said during a TV interview that at this point the balloon's basket was around five metres from the ground. According to Hussein Yasin, one of the passengers – possibly Mr Rennie – then managed to escape, leaping into the field below.

Investigators then described the balloon shooting upwards. At an altitude of around 1,000ft one of the gas canisters exploded, sending the balloon plunging down where it landed in a sugar cane field. Some passengers leapt to their deaths on the way down, as flaming gas engulfed the wicker cabin.

Witnesses described the farmland as being littered with bodies. Apart from Mr Rennie, only the Egyptian pilot survived.

Another Briton underwent five hours of surgery in Luxor, with surgeons attempting to treat a series of severe abdominal wounds, but he could not be saved.

Authorities halted balloon flights in Luxor after the accident.

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