The Coroner’s Court has begun an inquest into the deaths of nine Hongkongers who victims in the 2013 Luxor hot air balloon tragedy. The hearing, which began on Monday, is expected to last 10 days.

The incident took place almost three years ago on February 26, 2013. A hot air balloon crashed near Luxor, Egypt, resulting in 19 deaths, making it the deadliest ballooning disaster in history. Only two passengers, the pilot and a British tourist, survived after having leapt out of the balloon. Nine of the victims were Hongkongers from three different families.

There are 26 names of the prosecution’s witness list, including travel agency employees, tour guides and individuals who joined the tour but not the ballooning activity. Families of six of the victims, balloon supplier Ultra Magic, and Kuoni Travel, which arranged the tour, were all represented by lawyers.

hot air balloon featured image
The balloon prior to the incident. Photo: Wikicommons.

Coroner June Cheung Tin-ngan said that not all of the witnesses would have to appear in court; some of their testimonies would be read out, RTHK reported. Cheung also said that the main purpose of the hearing was to look into the causes of, and circumstances surrounding, their deaths. It would also suggest ways to prevent future tragedies. However, it would not deal with issues of civil claims, which have to be handled in other courts.

Senior Counsel Michael Ozorio, for Kuoni Travel, requested that insurance matters not be discussed in the hearing, and said that – according to expert reports – ballooning activities were not high-risk activities. However, barrister Foster Yim, who represented families of the deceased, objected and said they wish to be able to verify basic facts regarding insurance, Ming Pao reported.

The court decided that only the issues of whether the activity was covered by insurance and whether the participants were notified of insurance-related matters prior to the incident would be discussed.

”Video of the balloon crash: viewer discretion advised”
YouTube video

In court, it was also revealed that two reports compiled in Egypt had contradictory findings on the liability of the pilot; they differed on the point of whether the pilot was thrown out of the hot air balloon or whether he had escaped on his own.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.