UK & World News

  • 1 March 2013, 5:58

Egypt Balloon Crash: Families Pay Tribute

A mother whose son and his partner were killed in the Luxor balloon disaster have described the couple as "wonderfully creative and sensitive individuals".

Joe Bampton, 40, and Zsi Gyetvai, 34, were among 19 people who died when their hot air balloon exploded and crashed in flames in Egypt.

Mr Bampton'smotherMaureen thanked everyone "for their messages of condolence, cards and flowers".

She said the couple from London "lived life to the full" and enjoyed being in Clapham Common with their dog Ollie.

She added: "Joe and Zsi will be sadly missed by their families and work colleagues and their many, many good friends."

Another Briton, Yvonne Rennie, 48, from Perth, also died in the crash.

Mrs Rennie's husband Michael, 49, was the only passenger to survive, while the balloon's Egyptian pilot also escaped with his life, but was badly burned.

Mr Rennie said his wife's death meant he had lost "his world".

He said: "Yvonne was my rock, my friend, my shoulder to cry on. She was my world.

"My heartfelt condolences go out to the other families that have lost relatives around the world in this terrible disaster."

The Britons had been travelling with tour operator Thomas Cook and had booked their balloon trip separately with Bright Sky Travel, which Thomas Cook contracts to provide various excursions in Egypt.

The actual company operating the flight was Sky Cruise, which was also involved in a balloon crash into the Nile in October 2011.

The Times reported that after the Nile accident in October 2011, in which everyone survived, a video was produced saying: "So be warned if you take a wonderful balloon flight in Luxor."

Thomas Cook said it insisted that local companies offering balloon trips were fully licensed by Egypt's aviation authority.

The company added that Sky Cruises had been "verified and approved" by the Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority.

But Ala Mahmoud, the head of Egyptian balloon company Magic Horizon, accused Thomas Cook of "not being professional" in its dealings with Bright Sky.

He told The Independent newspaper that when Thomas Cook hired Bright Sky as its agent three years ago, his company had been invited to bid for a contract to provide balloon flights over Luxor.

He refused after being offered the equivalent of 35 for every 70 ticket.

Mr Mahmoud said: "The problem is they are taking so much money. It means the balloon company may not be looking for safety or quality, they are just looking for quantity."

Amr Abd el Nabi, a pilot for balloon firm Hod Hod, agreed. He told the paper: "This situation makes me very angry."

A Thomas Cook spokesman said: "We can assure our customers that we insist that the local companies which offer hot air balloon excursions to our guests in Luxor are fully licensed by the Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

"In this tragic case, the operator was Sky Cruises, which had been verified and approved by the Egyptian CAA.

"We, like all other major tour operators, rely upon this endorsement by the Egyptian CAA and it is reasonable for us to do so as we rely on their expertise."

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