Two Britons killed and two in hospital after Luxor Egypt balloon crash
Two Britons have died and two are in hospital following a hot air balloon crash in Egypt, tour operator Thomas Cook has confirmed.
In a statement posted on its website this morning, the operator said: "Thomas Cook UK & Ireland is working closely with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and the authorities in Egypt and we can confirm that two of our guests are in local hospitals, but tragically two of our guests have died in the hot air balloon incident in Luxor, Egypt this morning".
At least 18 tourists were killed when the hot air balloon caught fire at 1,000 ft (300m) and plunged onto fields west of Luxor, officials said.
The balloon's operating company confirmed a gas cylinder exploded on board the balloon, bringing it down in an agricultural area.
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Eye-witnesses said they heard an explosion and saw smoke.
French, Hong Kong and Japanese nationals are also among the victims.
At least two people, including the balloon's pilot, reportedly survived. It is believed they jumped out of the balloon before it crashed.
Thomas Cook is sending counselling and support teams to Luxor, and has opened a hot line for concerned relatives of those in the area - 0800 107 5638.
The operator has temporarily suspended sales of hot air balloon rides in Egypt while an investigation is carried out.
Peter Fankhauser, CEO of Thomas Cook UK & Continental Europe, said: “What happened in Luxor this morning is a terrible tragedy and the thoughts of everyone in Thomas Cook are with our guests, their family and friends.
“We have a very experienced team in resort with the two guests in the local hospital, and we’re providing our full support to the family and friends of the deceased at this difficult time.”
In its statement the operator stressed: "Like all holiday companies, Thomas Cook guests are able to take part in hot air balloon excursions (in addition to others), using reputable suppliers which the company promotes".
Egypt Prime Minister Hisham Qandil is reported to be launching an investigation into the balloon explosion.
According to the Egyptian security official, the balloon was carrying at least 20 tourists.
The British Foreign Office wrote on its Twitter page this morning:
Luxor, which is 320 miles (510km) south of the capital Cairo, is a popular tourist spot. Lying on the banks of the River Nile, it boasts pharaonic-era ruins and royal tombs.
Hot air balloon rides at sunrise are a popular way to see the sites.
The Luxor crash is reported to have been one of the worst involving tourists in the country. In 2009, 16 tourists were injured when their balloon stuck a mobile phone transmission.
A year earlier, seven tourists were injured in a similar crash.