Hot air balloon flies over Luxor, Egypt, November 2012 (Photo: AP)
A hot air balloon crashed near the Egyptian town of Luxor at dawn on Tuesday after a mid-air gas explosion, killing 19 Asian and European tourists, a local industry official and the state news agency said.
Ahmed Aboud, a spokesman for balloon operators in the area, told Reuters that one tourist and the pilot had survived the crash, which followed the blast at 1,000 feet (300 metres).
The dead were from Britain, France, Japan and Hong Kong, the state news agency MENA reported, citing a security source.
"There were 20 passengers aboard. An explosion happened and 19 passengers died. One tourist and the pilot survived," he said by telephone. Aboud is the representative of eight companies that operate balloon flights in Luxor, near ancient Egyptian sites in the famed Valley of the Kings.
Konny Matthews, assistant manager of Luxor's Al Moudira hotel, said she heard a boom around 7 am (0500 GMT). "It was a huge bang. It was a frightening bang, even though it was several kilometres away from the hotel," she said by phone. "Some of my employees said that their homes were shaking."
The accident happened over the west bank of the Nile river. Hot air ballooning at dawn is popular with tourists who go to Luxor to visit its pharaonic temples and the tombs of the Valley of the Kings, including in Tutankhamen's.
Egypt's tourism industry has suffered a sharp downturn in visitor numbers since the 2011 uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak, with two years of political instability scaring off foreign tourists.