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British man dies in balloon crash

29 May 09 12:49 GMT

A British national has died and nine other UK tourists injured in a hot-air balloon crash during a trip in central Turkey, the Foreign Office has said.

The balloon dropped 200 metres (660ft) shortly after leaving Nevsehir province for a tour of the Cappadocia region, the Anatolia news agency reported.

A 61-year-old man died and nine others suffered fractures, it said. The pilot is also believed to have been injured.

British consular officials are heading to the area to offer their support.

Local official Asim Hacimustafaoglu described how the balloon came down after colliding with another, several hundred feet above the ground on Friday morning.

"The crash was apparently caused by a collision between two hot-air balloons seconds after their departure," he said.

"One of the balloons crashed after one of the balloon's baskets hit another one. The crash occurred at an altitude of 50 metres."

He said the accident had "saddened" everyone and the public prosecutor would be investigating the cause of the crash.

'Rapid descent'

Eyewitness Suat Ulusoy, a balloon pilot who works in the area, said he also understood the accident happened when one balloon flew above another and its basket ripped open the envelope, or fabric.

He saw the damaged balloon "descend very fast", he said, and the pilot was unable to regain control before it hit the ground.

Mr Ulusoy said up to 45 hot-air balloons took hundreds of tourists on flights in the region every day and it was the first time there had been a crash in the 20 years they had been running.

Explore Worldwide, which organised the balloon trip, confirmed one passenger had died as a result of the crash and another was critically injured. Eight others were being treated at a private hospital, it said.

A spokesman said representatives from the travel company were already assisting those hurt in the incident and more senior members were flying to the area.

Managing director Ashley Toft said the company had suspended all ballooning in Turkey as a precaution in the wake of the crash.

"This is a tragic accident and our immediate concerns are with our customers and their next of kin.

"Where immediate next of kin wish to fly out, Explore will assist with flights and accommodation so they can be with their loved ones," he said.

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A Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokeswoman confirmed a British national had died and nine others were being treated in hospital after a ballooning accident in the Cappadocia region.

"Consular officials are in contact with local authorities and are travelling to the area to provide consular assistance," she said.

She said the family of the deceased "were in the process of being informed".

A number of companies offer hot-air balloon rides above the Cappadocia region, which attracts tourists with its cone-shaped rock formations known as "fairy chimneys".

The ancient name of Cappadocia is still widely used by the Turkish tourist industry to describe an area that covers a number of present-day provinces in the Central Anatolian region.

The latest balloon crash follows another incident in Egypt in which two British women were injured.

Three Egyptian operators and 13 foreign tourists were also hurt when their balloon came down during a tour of the ancient city of Luxor last month.

A fortnight earlier seven tourists were injured in a similar crash in the country.

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