Luxor hot air balloon disaster: Horror of tourist who saw wife die in fireball

Witnesses describe hellish scenes as  burning passengers leapt from balloon

Luxor

A British traveller who survived the Luxor hot air balloon disaster was forced to watch as his wife and 18 other passengers were killed when fire engulfed their basket as they flew 1,000ft above the ground.

Michael Rennie – the only tourist to survive what was described as the worst catastrophe in the history of ballooning – managed to escape largely unharmed after the balloon encountered difficulties on a dawn flight close to the Valley of the Kings in southern Egypt. But the other passengers – including his wife, Yvonne, and Joe Bampton, 40, who later died of his injuries – were trapped when the balloon lurched up into the sky following an attempted landing.

Mr Bampton and his Hungarian-born partner Suzanna Gyetvai, 34, both from Clapham, London, were confirmed dead last night. 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, a 40-year-old village teacher who spoke to The Independent shortly after the accident.

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. In the early hours of yesterday morning the couple set off to one of the balloon launch sites amid the villages and sugar cane fields on the west bank of the Nile. 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 pharaonic monuments below.

Eight other balloons also set off at the same time but shortly after dawn, at around 7am, one encountered difficulties. Last night there were conflicting reports about exactly what happened, but state investigators said a fire erupted in the balloon's basket after landing ropes became tangled around one of its gas tubes.

Last night, amateur footage emerged of the incident, showing black smoke appearing from the base of the balloon. Within 20 seconds flames had spread upwards into the canopy causing it to plunge straight down from the sky in a trail of smoke and fire.

One of the passengers – possibly Mr Rennie – managed to escape by leaping into the field below when the balloon was around five metres from the ground.

"I saw one person jump out," said Mr Yasin. Investigators described the balloon shooting upwards sharply as hot air rushed into the balloon, which by this stage was unbalanced. At an altitude of around 1,000ft one of the gas canisters exploded, sending it plunging down to where it landed in a sugar cane field. Some of the passengers leapt to their deaths on the way down, as jets of flaming gas engulfed the wicker cabin. Others appear to have remained trapped in the balloon as it careered into the cornfield below. In all 19 people were killed: nine from Hong Kong, four from Japan, two Britons, two French nationals, a Hungarian and an Egyptian.

At the crash site yesterday, a single white Nike trainer embedded deep in the mud was one of the only traces of the victims amid the mangled remains of the passenger basket. A few yards away were the discarded medical gloves used by doctors who vainly tried to save the lives of the passengers after arriving on the scene.

Witnesses described the surrounding farmland as being littered with bodies.

Apart from Mr Rennie, only the Egyptian pilot survived. The pilot, who had been working for the balloon's operating company, Sky Cruise, reportedly suffered 60 per cent burns and was later transferred from the hospital in Luxor to a unit in Cairo.

Mr Bampton underwent five hours of surgery in Luxor, with surgeons attempting to treat a series of severe abdominal wounds, but he could not be saved. According to Dr Mohammad Abdullah, head of the emergency ward, the man probably fell from a height of around 50 metres.

Luxor has suffered air balloon accidents in the past. In 2009, 16 tourists were injured when their balloon hit a mobile phone tower.

But yesterday's tragedy could not have come at a worse time for Egypt's beleaguered tourist industry. Authorities decided to suspend balloon flights in Luxor following the accident, representing yet another blow in a town where shopkeepers and tour guides have seen their profits decimated by the consequences of the 2011 uprising that swept former President Hosni Mubarak from power. "Tourism had been beginning to pick up again," said local agent Sameh Roshdy.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' embraces politics, religion, warfare, courage, love and loyalty, say creators
News
peopleThe Game of Thrones author said speculation about his health and death was 'offensive'
News
Justin Bieber performing in Paris earlier this year
people
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman and Lauren O'Neil in Jamie Lloyd's Richard III
theatreReview: The monarch's malign magnetism and diabolic effrontery aren’t felt
Arts and Entertainment
'Molecular Man +1+1+1' by Jonathan Borofsky at Yorkshire Sculpture park
tv
News
Glamour magazine hosts a yoga class with Yogalosophy author Mandy Ingber on June 10, 2013 in New York City.
newsFather Padraig O'Baoill said the exercise was 'unsavoury' in a weekly parish newsletter
Extras
indybest
News
people'She is unstoppable', says Jean Paul Gaultier at Paris show
Sport
Alexis Sanchez and apparently his barber Carlos Moles in Barcelona today
football
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips
video
Arts and Entertainment
In his own words: Oscar Wilde in 1882
theatreNew play by the Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials - and what they reveal about the man
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m
filmWith US films earning record-breaking amounts at the Chinese box office, Hollywood is more than happy to take its lead from its new-found Asian audience
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

.Net Developer -London - up to 55K

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Excellent benefits : Deerfoot IT Resources Limited...

Compliance Officer - Trading Firm - London

£55000 - £65000 per annum + excellent package & bonus expectations: Real Staff...

Senior Compliance Executive - Top Bank - London

£80000 - £90000 per annum + competitive: Real Staffing: A highly successful Co...

AVP Regulatory Affairs, Global Bank, London

£40000 - £50000 per annum + highly competitive package: Real Staffing: An oppo...

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil