Standing in the middle of the Egyptian desert in pitch-black darkness, I was freezing.
It was 5am and I’d spent the last hour travelling to get here, but I knew it was going to be worth it.
Fascinated by Egypt since I was a child, I’d loved watching documentaries about the country.
So, after graduating university, my partner River, then 21, and I decided to visit.
We chose to do a nine-day group tour with the company Topdeck before continuing on alone.
In December 2017, we set off on our trip of a lifetime.
Our first day was spent checking out the Great Pyramid and Great Sphinx of Giza, before heading to the Egyptian Museum where King Tutankhamun’s chest was kept.
Then we rode camels across the desert, before spending two days sailing up the Nile River.
Now we'd arrived in Luxor for a hot air balloon ride across the Valley of the Kings.
‘It’s important you don’t talk to the pilot until he is ready to be spoken to,’ the crew informed us, adding that we should keep our limbs inside the basket at all times.
Once on board, the 20 riders were sorted into groups around the edge of the basket to ensure there was even weight distribution, while the pilot operated the balloon from the centre.
Floating higher and higher into the sky, we were greeted with a spectacular sunrise.
Soaring 450 metres above the ground, it was like we were on top of the world.
Around 45 minutes later, the pilot announced we were descending.
As we neared closer to the ground, I could see a number of crew waiting.
Then the pilot advised us to duck below the edge of the basket to brace for the impact of landing.
As we got closer, the pilot started talking very loudly in Arabic at the people on the ground.
There was a small burst as we shot back up into the air.
When he announced we were preparing to land once more, he began yelling again, but this time he sounded more frantic.
Still crouching down, I wasn’t able to see how close we were to the ground.
Then the basket hit the earth with an almighty thud, before dragging across the sand.
Everyone was screaming.
Suddenly, the basket was hoisted off the ground before slamming back down with such brutal force my head was slammed against the side of it.
Gently touching it, I could feel blood dripping down my face.
Others had been knocked unconscious – including the pilot.
With no-one steering, we were pulled violently across the desert floor.
The basket had flipped onto its side – with our side facing the sky – so we had to cling on to the edge for dear life. Getting tossed around like a ragdoll, I was completely hysterical.
The crew on the ground desperately tried to anchor us down by jumping on the outside of the basket.
After what felt like an eternity, the balloon finally came to a halt.
Blood poured down my face and neck.
That’s when someone carried me out of the basket and laid me on the ground.
‘I’m fine,’ I told River, in shock.
But others around us seemed worse for wear.
At hospital, I received stitches to the cut in my head. Thankfully, River escaped unharmed.
We learnt one South African tourist had tragically lost his life and 12 people, including me, were injured.
It was devastating.
Topdeck flew counsellors over for us to speak to.
Australia a week later, my mum was so relieved.
‘I’m so glad you’re okay,’ she said, wrapping her arms around me.
Though River and I tried to focus on the good memories of our trip, there was no escaping the nightmare we’d been through.
So we did our best to avoid talking about it at all.
Now, more than two years on from the accident, I still find it difficult to relive.
While I understand that the Egyptian government launched an investigation into the incident, I’ve never learned why we crashed.
Despite what happened, River and I haven’t been deterred from travelling.
But we’ll never board a hot air balloon again.
Hot air balloon tragedy
Egypt’s civil aviation ministry revealed that a hot air balloon had crashed in Luxor on January 5, 2018.
Of the 20 tourists that had been on board, one person died and 12 others were injured, including several Australians. Four people were arrested pending an investigation but no further details have been reported since.
A Topdeck spokesperson told tl!, ‘We are deeply saddened by the incident. Our thoughts and condolences remain with
all those that were affected, and their families and friends.
The hot air balloon excursion was organised through a third party in Egypt and at the time of the incident we worked with the local authorities to ensure all those that were on board received urgent medical assistance.’