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.

News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Latest stories from i100
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

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam