The bodies of tourists who died after a hot air balloon crashed lie on the ground in Luxor February 26, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer
CAIRO, Feb 26 (Reuters) - Eighteen Asian and European tourists died when a hot air balloon crashed early on Tuesday near the ancient Egyptian town of Luxor following a mid-air gas explosion, officials said.
Tourism official Ahmed Aboud said the balloon was at around 1,000 feet (300 metres) above Luxor, famous for its pharaonic temples and tombs of the Valley of the Kings, including Tutankhamen's, when the blast happened.
The pilot survived by jumping from the basket when it was 10-15 metres from the ground, said Aboud, head of an association representing Luxor balloon operators.
The pilot was being treated for burns, Aboud said by telephone. One of the tourists aboard the balloon also survived the accident, which Aboud said was caused by an explosion in the hose between the balloon's burner and its gas canister.
Mohamed Mustafa, a doctor at the hospital where the wounded were being treated, said the dead included tourists from Britain, Japan and Hong Kong. Three more were hurt, he added.
Luxor province's governor told Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr that some of the bodies had yet to be identified.
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 balloon came to ground on the west bank of the Nile river, where many of the major historical sites are located.
U.S. photographer Christopher Michel, who was on board another balloon, told Britain's Sky News television that the balloon was one of eight flying at the time.
"We heard a loud explosion behind us. I looked back and saw lots of smoke. It wasn't immediately clear that it was a balloon," he said.
Hot air ballooning at dawn is a popular draw with tourists, a mainstay of the Egyptian economy, but visitor numbers have fallen sharply since a 2011 uprising that toppled veteran President Hosni Mubarak. Two years of political instability have scared off many foreign tourists.
Tourism accounted for more than a 10th of Egypt's gross domestic product before the revolt. In 2010, around 14.7 million visitors came to Egypt, but this slumped to 9.8 million people the next year. (Reporting by Tom Perry and Alexander Dziadosz; Additional reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by David Stamp and Jon Boyle)