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October 15, 2009

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4 Dutch die in balloon ride fire

FOUR Dutch tourists died early yesterday when a hot-air balloon caught fire and crashed near Yangshuo, a popular tourist destination in south China.

Five passengers, all from the Netherlands, and two Chinese pilots were aboard when the accident occurred in Maling Township, Lipu County, in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

The bodies of the two Dutch couples were sent to a local funeral house while Chinese authorities contacted their Dutch counterparts.

The pilots and a Dutch tourist were injured and received hospital treatment, a Lipu County government official said. The tourist was released last night, and the pilots were in stable condition.

The balloon belonged to the Dongguan Meixiang Aviation Club, based in neighboring Guangdong Province. It received an aviation management qualification in September 2008, according to a Central-South Bureau official of the Civil Aviation Administration of China.

The pilots lost control of the balloon after it took off from Yangshuo County. It flew over neighboring Lipu County and caught fire 150 meters above Maling, said an official with the government of Guilin, which administers Yangshuo and Lipu.

Lipu government dispatched 400 people to search for the victims after receiving a report at 8:30am that the balloon had crashed.

Hot-air balloons and similar aviation businesses were suspended in Yangshuo for a safety review affecting all companies offering such services, according to the county's government.

Investigators from the local work safety watchdogs and public security bureaus were working to determine who was responsible for the accident.

Yangshuo is a world-famous scenic spot, and hot-air balloon flights are a popular activity, especially among foreign tourists.


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