Egypt PM orders probe into deadly balloon crash

Updated 27 February 2013
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Egypt PM orders probe into deadly balloon crash

LUXOR, Egypt: Egypt’s prime minister has ordered an investigation following the deaths of up to 19 tourists in a fiery hot-air balloon crash during a sunrise flight over the ancient temple city of Luxor.
The balloon, carrying 20 tourists from Hong Kong, Japan, France, Britain and Hungary, along with the pilot, was flying at 300 meters (1,000 feet) when it caught fire, exploded and plunged to earth, a security official said.
The pilot and one tourist survived by jumping out of the basket at some point before it hit the ground, said an employee of Sky Cruise, which operates the balloon rides. Both were taken to hospital.
A video shot by a passenger on another flight appears to show smoke pouring from the balloon’s basket for some time before the balloon itself collapses, leaving the basket full of tourists to freefall to earth.
“This is terrible, just terrible,” the employee told AFP by telephone, declining to give her name. “We don’t yet know what happened exactly or what went wrong.”
Luxor Governor Ezzat Saad imposed an immediate ban on all hot-air balloon flights in the province as Prime Minister Hisham Qandil ordered the investigation.
Security services cordoned off the crash site in Luxor’s dense sugar cane fields, as police and residents inspected the charred remains of the balloon.
“There was a terrifying sound when the balloon exploded,” one resident, Ahmed, 40, told AFP.
“Bodies engulfed in flames were falling out of the balloon,” said Youssef Al-Tayyeb, another resident who witnessed the accident.
The balloon had been floating over the west bank of Luxor, one of Egypt’s most renowned archaeological sites and home to the famous Valley of the Kings and the grand Temple of Hatshepsut, when it exploded.
There was confusion over the exact death toll and the tourists’ nationalities. Different official bodies gave conflicting figures and details.
An Egyptian security official said 19 tourists from Hong Kong, Japan, Britain, France and Hungary had died. The health ministry put the toll at 18 dead.
The French foreign ministry confirmed two of its citizens were among the dead.
Britain’s Foreign Office said two British nationals and one British resident had died. Later, it named them as Yvonne Rennie, Joe Bampton and Hungarian-born Suzanna Gyetvai and said another Briton was “in a stable condition” after surviving the plunge.
Nine of those killed were thought to be from from Hong Kong, and four from Japan.
“We believe that there is a high possibility that nine of our customers have died,” said Raymond Ng, general manager of travel agency Kuoni, which organized the Hong Kongers’ tour.
The five women and four men were aged between 33 and 62, Ng said, adding their relatives were flying to Cairo accompanied by three Kuoni staff.
The nine were among a group of 15 Hong Kongers who had left for Egypt on February 22. Ng said that according to local employees the balloon caught fire about an hour after it had set off, plummeting to the ground two minutes later.
In Japan, tour company JTB said four Japanese tourists involved in the accident were all confirmed dead. The foreign ministry said it was seeking further information.
French hot-air balloon expert Philippe Buron-Pilatre de Rozier said the blast could have been caused by a leak after a spark caused by a lighter or a cigarette.
Another reason could be wear and tear due to poor maintenance, said Buron-Pilatre de Rozier. Hot-air balloons such as the ones used in Egypt are generally 40 meters (130 feet) high and can carry up to 25 passengers, he added.
In 2009, 13 foreign tourists were injured when their balloon hit a phone mast and crashed at Luxor. Sources at the time said the balloon was overcrowded.
Local operators were bracing themselves for a backlash following the crash.
“The accident will have a devastating effect on tourism,” said Yasser Al-Zambali, who owns the Dream Balloon company in Luxor, one of a handful of firms to organize sunrise flights over the city.
“How can I now convince other tourists to pay a single dollar to ride a balloon now?“
Tuesday’s crash comes amid widespread anger over safety standards in Egypt following several deadly transport and construction accidents.


Libyan airstrikes target group attacking oil ports

Smoke and flames rise from an oil storage tank that was set on fire amid fighting between rival factions at Ras Lanuf terminal, Libya. Reuters
Updated 19 June 2018
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Libyan airstrikes target group attacking oil ports

  • The country is now split between rival governments in the east and west, each backed by an array of militias
  • The UN Support Mission in Libya condemned the assault on the ports of Ras Lanuf and Al-Sidr

CAIRO: Libyan forces carried out airstrikes against a militia attacking key oil ports in the east, a spokesman said as Libya’s national oil firm warned on Monday of further damage to oil infrastructure as well as environmental contamination in the north African country.
A militia, led by Ibrahim Jadhran who opposes Libya’s self-styled national army commanded by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, attacked the oil ports of Ras Lanuf and Al-Sidr on Thursday forcing the National Oil Corporation to suspend exports and evacuate its employees.
The airstrikes late Sunday targeted fighters loyal to Jadhran, who are trying to seize the oil terminals, said Ahmed Al-Mesmari, a spokesman for the LNA.
He said warplanes carried out airstrikes against “terrorist positions and gatherings in the operational military zone stretching from Ras Lanuf to the edge of the city of Sirte.”
Al-Mesmari called on residents in the oil crescent area to stay away from “areas where the enemy gathers, munition storages and sites with military vehicles.”
Jadhran said in a video circulated on social media on Thursday that he had formed an alliance to retake oil terminals. “Our aim is to overturn the injustice for our people over the past two years,” he said.
The attack by Jadhran’s militia caused “significant” damage to at least two storage tanks, the NOC said Monday in a statement. It warned of further damage to oil infrastructure as well as environmental contamination.
The firm called for an unconditional and immediate withdrawal of Jadhran’s forces, adding that the closure meant the loss of 240,000 barrels per day in oil production. It advised two tankers scheduled to arrive at the ports to remain at sea until the situation was under control.
The UN Support Mission in Libya condemned the assault on the ports of Ras Lanuf and Al-Sidr. “This dangerous escalation in Oil Crescent area puts Libya’s economy in jeopardy and risks igniting a widespread confrontation,” UNSMIL tweeted on Thursday.
Jadhran is a rebel commander who took part in the 2011 uprising that toppled and later killed dictator Moammar Qaddafi. In 2013, he proclaimed himself the guardian of Libya’s oil crescent including the ports of Al-Sidr, Ras Lanuf and Brega, which represent about 60 percent of Libya’s oil resources. His actions cost the oil-rich country billions of dollars.
He lost control of the oil crescent to Haftar’s forces in 2016.
Libya descended into chaos following the 2011 uprising. The country is now split between rival governments in the east and west, each backed by an array of militias. Haftar is allied with the east-based administration that is at odds with the UN-backed government based in the capital, Tripoli.