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 Holiday balloon ride turns into... 10-STOREY CLIFFHANGER

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PostSubject: Holiday balloon ride turns into... 10-STOREY CLIFFHANGER   Tue Feb 17, 2009 11:31 am

Holiday balloon ride turns into... 10-STOREY CLIFFHANGER

Crash landing leaves 20 S'poreans stuck on hill in Turkey

By Tay Shi'an
February 17, 2009


THE 20 Singaporean tourists were having the time of their lives, flying over mountains in a hot-air balloon.


BALANCING ACT: Some members of the group managed to carefully climb out of the balloon and pull the rest to safety. PICTURES: LIANHE WANBAO

But the hot-air balloon crashed half-way into the journey, leaving them dangling precariously at the edge of a hilltop.

Through coordination and teamwork, some managed to leave the basket slowly and pull the balloon and remaining passengers to safety, avoiding further tragedy.

Witnesses said about half of the Singaporeans were injured. Madam Lee Kwai Sim, 68, suffered a fractured foot, while others suffered bruises, scraps and other minor injuries.

The accident happened on 1 Feb in Turkey's central Cappadocia region.

Hairstylist Vincent Leong, 43, his mother Madam Lee, and two friends were among those on the 11-day Chan Brothers tour over the Chinese New Year period.

On the sixth day, they were offered a hot balloon ride as an optional item on the itinerary.


Madam Lee's foot hurt for the rest of the trip after she fractured it in the crash.

Mr Kelvin Ng, 45, an administrator, said the tour guide persuaded them to sign up, saying it was very safe.

He said 24 out of the group of 28 decided to give the 45-minute ride a try.

The group was split into two hot-air balloons - 20 were placed on the first balloon with three other tourists, while the remaining four and the tour guide were on the second balloon.

Mr Leong said the first balloon had only been airborne for about 20 minutes when the pilot suddenly shouted: 'I can't see, I can't see! We have to land! We've got to land!'

Although it was foggy, the hills were still clearly visible.

Mr Leong said: 'I shouted, 'It's a slope!' A few other guys also shouted, but the pilot didn't seem to hear us.'

Deflating in mid-air

Mr Ng said he looked up and saw the balloon deflating in mid-air.

He shouted for everyone to squat down and brace for impact - but before many of them could react, the balloon slammed onto a hilltop with a giant 'bang', throwing the tourists to the ground.

'My mum, she kept saying her feet hurt, her feet hurt,' said Mr Leong.

'My leg was so painful that I couldn't really stand up straight.'

Then someone shouted for them not to move, because half of the hot-air balloon basket was hanging off the side of the hill.

Said Mr Leong: 'I looked out a bit and I was shocked. It was about 10, 12 storeys high. I didn't dare to look out anymore, (in case) any movement could make it slide down.'

To avoid upsetting the balloon's balance, the passengers organised themselves and slowly moved toward the side of the basket that was on the hilltop before climbing out.

Mr Ng said some of the elderly had to be carried out of the basket.

Several staff members from the hot-air balloon company then arrived.

They told the tourists that vehicles could not make it to the top of the hill, so they had to walk part of the muddy, uneven way down.

After a 10-minute trek, the tourists were taken back by bus to the hotel, where they were treated by a doctor.

Mr Leong and his mother later insisted on going to the hospital, where they were told they did not have fractures.

After complaints, the tourists were refunded half of the US$220 ($330) ticket price for the hot-air balloon ride.

Mr Leong said several of the injured were unable to enjoy the remaining five days of the tour. His mother was in so much pain that she had to be in a wheelchair, and sat out many of the attractions.

She developed a giant blister almost the width of her swollen foot.

When they returned to Singapore on 6 Feb, an X-ray at the polyclinic showed Madam Lee had a fracture in her foot.

Hospitalised

She was hospitalised for four days.

Mr Leong also got 12 days medical leave. The total medical bill came up to more than $700. Mr Leong hopes to get some money back from the Turkish hot-air balloon company and Chan Brothers.

Chan Brothers' spokesman Jane Chang said a customer has expressed his intent to lodge a formal complaint, and they will only be able to give a formal reply after investigations.

Mr Ng said: 'When I look at the pictures (from the incident) now, it's really very scary. We were very fortunate to have cheated death.'

Source: http://newpaper.asia1.com.sg/news/story/0,4136,193082,00.html?
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