EYEWITNESSES have described the dramatic moment a Scots tourist fell from a burning hot-air balloon gondola into an Egyptian wheat field, before running for help, screaming: “My wife, my wife.”
Michael Rennie was one of just two survivors in the disaster over the ancient city of Luxor. The crash claimed the lives of 19 tourists, including Mr Rennie’s wife Yvonne, 48, and two other British passengers.
The 49-year-old construction manager, from Perth, suffered burns to his face and body, but managed to leap from the gondola under the balloon, along with the pilot, Mohmin Murad, 10ft above the ground.
He is now in a stable condition in a Cairo hospital.
Details of Mr Rennie’s escape came as it emerged that Tuesday’s crash was the second involving a balloon run by Sky Cruises in 18 months. One of their craft plunged into the Nile in October 2011, its passengers narrowly escaping injury.
Yousef Mohammed Amin, 22, a minibus driver on the Thomas Cook tour and first on the scene as the drama unfolded, described Mr Rennie’s escape.
“He was the first one to jump from the balloon”, he said “He was in hysterical shock. He kept saying, ‘Where is my wife?’ He didn’t know that she was dead until he was taken to the hospital.”
Other witnesses said Mr Rennie landed to see the balloon rise up above him, his wife Yvonne still on board, and shouted “my wife”, before it exploded.
The Sky Cruises balloon was being guided in to land, when it is thought a landing rope became caught around a gas tube and severed it, sparking a fire as the balloon came down.
One of the four gas cylinders exploded, setting Mr Murad alight. He and Mr Rennie then both leapt from the gondola.
The fire then superheated the air in the balloon and caused it to rapidly rise to more 1,000ft, before the remaining three tanks exploded in midair.
Yousef Abdel-Hamid, a local farmer, said passengers jumped from the basket hundreds of feet up and fell to their deaths. “They were falling on the sugar cane farms” he said.
Mr Rennie was airlifted to hospital in Cairo with multiple lacerations, along with Mr Murad, who suffered 70 per cent burns. A hospital spokesman told The Scotsman: “Michael Rennie’s condition is stable. He was being treated for concussion and shock but he could be discharged at any time.”
British tourist Joe Bampton, 40, and his partner, Suzanna Gyetvai, 34, also died.
Last night, Mr Rennie’s brother David said the family “definitely” wanted to know how the disaster could have occurred, given other balloon crashes in the area in recent years.
Mr Rennie’s father John, 80, added: “It’s terrible. They were very much in love and Yvonne was very popular and well liked.”
Mrs Rennie had worked as an appointments officer for the Radiology Department at Perth Royal Infirmary since June 2006 having previously worked at Ninewells Hospital.
Tributes paid to artist couple killed in crash
Tributes have poured in for a couple from London who were killed while enjoying a dream holiday in Egypt.
Joe Bampton, 40, and his Hungarian-born partner, Suzanna Gyetvai, 34, were described by their neighbours in Clapham, south London, as “a quiet, lovely couple”.
A native of Wallasey on Merseyside, Mr Bampton was a visual artist and was well-known on the Liverpool art scene before moving to Clapham. With Ms Gyetvai, who used the name Zsi Chimera in her career as an artist, Mr Bampton worked at Lots Road Auctions in Chelsea.
“They were two people very much in love and a lovely couple” said senior auctioneer Nick Carter, adding that they both loved Egypt.
“They worked here and they were both artists. It’s not about a colleague being sorely missed, it’s a bereavement. Our managing director has described him as one of his sons.
“They lived together and have a whippet dog called Ollie. All of us are devastated.”
Alison Robertson, 56, who lived next door to the couple, added: “They were very quiet, unassuming people. It’s such a waste of life.”