Egypt hot-air balloon crash: Scots’ tribute to wife

Hot air balloons near Luxor, Egypt. Picture: Getty
Hot air balloons near Luxor, Egypt. Picture: Getty
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THE Scots tourist who survived jumping from a burning hot-air balloon gondola in Egypt has paid an emotional tribute to his wife who died in the accident, describing her as his “rock”.

Michael Rennie, from Perth, was one of two survivors of Tuesday’s tragic events, in which the balloon exploded over the city of Luxor, killing 19 tourists including his wife Yvonne.

The grief-striken Scot is reported to have since contacted his wife’s parents to apologise for her death.

A statement issued by the Foreign Office on behalf of 49-year-old Mr Rennie yesterday said: “Yvonne was my rock, my friend, my shoulder to cry on. She was my world.”

He added: “My heartfelt condolences go out to the other families that have lost relatives around the world in this terrible disaster.”

Mr Rennie also thanked staff at hospitals in Cairo and Luxor, the British Embassy and Thomas Cook for their help.

Other relatives paid tribute to Mrs Rennie, 48, yesterday, saying she was “very popular and well-liked”.

Her father William Harris, of Liff near Dundee, said of his son-in-law: “He’s a broken man. He broke down when he spoke to me and apologised.

“But we know it wasn’t Michael that dragged her on to that balloon – it was Yvonne that dragged Michael. Nightmare doesn’t describe it.”

He added: “The last half-hour or hour of my daughter’s life, I want to know. Once Michael’s released from hospital I hope he’s fit to travel home and tell us, as he interpreted it, what happened. We have to be grateful that Michael’s getting home. He gave Yvonne a happy life at the time they were together.”

The inquiry into the events surrounding the accident continued yesterday, with the head of Egypt’s Civil Aviation Authority, Walid el-Moqadem, saying that he wanted to interview Mr Rennie.

The Scot is said to have already told criminal investigators that most of those in the balloon squatted when the fire broke out, following the pilot’s instructions.

Mr Rennie and the Egyptian pilot, Momin Murad, managed to escape the balloon’s gondola when it was still relatively close to the ground.

The balloon then rose back up to 1,000ft. The fire spread to the balloon itself, which burst, sending it plummeting into a sugar cane field. Witnesses have said some of the tourists trapped in the burning balloon as it rose jumped to their deaths trying to escape.

Mr Rennie escaped with only minor injuries and is likely to be discharged from hospital today. He is expected to go straight to the airport. A neurologist who is treating him at a Cairo hospital, Mahmoud el-Shennawy, said: “Some psychiatrists, and myself, talked with him. He seems to be accepting the situation.”

The sightseeing balloon on a sunrise flight over the ancient monuments of Luxor was carrying 20 tourists from Britain, Hong Kong, Japan, Belgium, Hungary and France.

Investigators have said that, according to preliminary indications, a fuel line for the burner broke, sparking the fire.

They have not yet spoken to the severely burned pilot because of his injuries.

Mr El-Moqadem said countries of some of the crash victims had asked to join the probe. He said so far that Hong Kong, Britain, Japan and Hungary would not be sending investigators, but would be granted an advisory role.

The mother of another British man who died in the accident along with his partner paid tribute to the couple yesterday as “wonderfully creative and sensitive individuals”.

Maureen Bampton said that her son Joe, 40, and Zsi Gyetvai, 34, “lived life to the full”. She added: “Joe and Zsi will be sadly missed by their families, colleagues and many, many good friends.”