CAIRO – A hot air balloon caught fire and exploded as it was flying over the ancient Egyptian city of Luxor on Tuesday, killing at least 18 tourists.

The casualties included French, British, Japanese nationals and nine tourists from Hong Kong, a security official told AP.

The crash happened on one of the many dawn hot air balloon flights that give tourists an aerial view of Luxor's famous sites - File photo: Dale Gillard

According to Egypt’s daily Al-Masry Al-Youm, the balloon which was carrying 21 tourists was flying over Luxor when it caught fire, which triggered an explosion in its gas canister. The balloon then plunged at least 1,000 feet and crashed in a cane field near ancient Egyptian sites in the famed Valley of the Kings.

Initial reports of 19 dead were revised to 18; two tourists and the Egyptian pilot of the hot air balloon survived the crash and were taken to a local hospital.

One witness told BBC News that people were jumping out of the balloon, "from about the height of a seven-story building".

The crash is yet another blow to an already crippled tourism industry in Egypt, with AP reporting that Luxor's hotels are currently about 25% full in what is supposed to be the peak of the winter season.