by HAGGAG SALAMA and MENNA ZAKI, Associated Press | January 05, 2018
LUXOR, Egypt (AP) - A hot-air balloon carrying foreign tourists over Egypt's ancient city of Luxor crash-landed Friday, killing a tourist from South Africa and injuring at least 12 others, Egyptian officials said. Strong winds forced the balloon, which was carrying 20 tourists, off course above the southern city, home to some of Egypt's most famous pharaonic temples and tombs. The balloon took off around sunrise and flew about 45 minutes at an altitude of 1,500 feet before the pilot lost control over a mountainous area, the officials said, adding that the pilot was among those injured.
They said other balloons had taken off around the same time but landed safely. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity, in line with regulations. An official statement from the Luxor governorate confirmed that 12 people were injured. It said the balloon passengers included South African, Argentine and Spanish tourists. It was unclear whether the governorate included the pilot among those injured. The state-run MENA news agency, citing Egypt's health minister, said all those wounded have been treated except for three who are currently undergoing operations.
Earlier in the day, Egypt's meteorological service had warned of strong winds across the country mainly in the Nile River Delta and northern Egypt.
Luxor has a history of hot-air balloon crashes. The deadliest took place in 2013, when a balloon flying over the city caught fire and plunged about 1,000 feet, crashing into a sugar cane field and killing at least 19 foreign tourists. In 2016, Egypt temporarily halted balloon flights after 22 Chinese tourists suffered minor injuries in a crash landing. Over the years, Egypt has tightened safety rules for balloon rides, which are now monitored by cameras and banned from flying above 6,562 feet. The Civil Aviation Ministry said in a statement that an investigation is being held into the circumstances of Friday's incident.
The hot-air balloon flights are popular because they offer spectacular views of the ancient Karnak Temple and other historical sites. The flights usually start shortly before sunrise and pass over green fields leading to the Valley of the Kings - the burial site of the famous boy king Tutankhamun and other pharaohs.
Egypt's vital tourism industry has been hit hard by extremist attacks and political turmoil following the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. An Islamic State bombing brought down a Russian passenger plane over the Sinai Peninsula in 2015, killing all 224 people on board. In response, Russia imposed a ban on all flights to Egypt, and Egypt's national carrier is still barred from flying to Russia. There are plans to resume flights between Moscow and Cairo in February, but no decision has been taken regarding flights to popular Red Sea resorts in Sinai.
Egypt's government has been trying to lure tourists back by touting new archaeological discoveries and boosting security around historical sites.
Zaki reported from Cairo.