LUXOR, Egypt —
“I saw tourists catching fire and they were jumping from the balloon. They were trying to flee the fire but it was on their bodies,” said Hassan Abdel-Rasoul, a farmer in al-Dhabaa. He said one of those he saw on fire was a visibly pregnant woman.
Bodies of the dead tourists were scattered across the field around the remnants of the balloon, as rescue officials collected the remains in body bags.
The crash immediately killed 18, according to Luxor’s governor, Ezzat Saad. Two Britons and the Egyptian pilot were taken to the hospital, but one of the Britons died of his injuries soon after. The other Briton and the Egyptian, who state media said suffered severe burns, were flown to Cairo for further treatment.
Among the dead were nine tourists from Hong Kong, four Japanese — including a couple in their 60s — and two other Britons, according to Egyptian officials or tourism authorities from the home countries.
Hot air ballooning is a popular pastime for tourists in Luxor, usually at sunrise to give a dramatic view over the pharaonic temples of Karnak and Luxor and the Valley of the Kings, a desert valley where many pharaohs, notably King Tutankhamun, were buried.
Luxor has seen crashes in the past. In 2009, 16 tourists were injured when their balloon struck a cellphone transmission tower. A year earlier, seven tourists were injured in a similar crash.
The toll puts the crash among the deadliest involving a recreational hot air balloon. In 1989, 13 people were killed when their hot air balloon collided with another over the Australian outback near the town of Alice Springs.
After the 2009 accident, Egypt suspended hot air balloon flights for several months and tightened safety standards. Pilots were given more training and a landing spot was designated for the balloons.
But Tuesday’s crash raised accusations that standards had fallen, and many in Luxor were afraid it would only further damage tourism in a city that relies on foreign visitors.