Egypt Luxor balloon crash
The body of one of the tourists who died after a hot air balloon crashed is loaded onto an ambulance in Luxor - Reuters

As Egyptian authorities began an investigation into the cause of the hot air balloon crash in the country's tourist city of Luxor, initial reports suggest a landing rope severed the helium gas tube causing a mid-air explosion.

The balloon then crash-landed on sugar cane fields in the area from a height of about 1,000 feet.

The pilot of another balloon which was airborne nearby told the Guardian that the fire was caused by a gas leak.

Sky Cruise, to which the hot air balloon belongs, said the accident took place after the gas canister exploded.

While 19 tourists, including three Britons, were killed in the crash, one tourist and the pilot escaped by jumping out of the basket. They are reported to have suffered 70 percent burns.

One of the casualties is believed to be a pregnant woman. The victims included tourists from Hong Kong, Japan, Britain, France and Hungary.

Reports say that 18 bodies which were lying scattered across the fields were recovered from the crash site; one of the Britons died at a hospital. Another British tourist is said be in a stable condition in a Cairo hospital.

"I saw tourists catching fire and they were jumping from the balloon. They were trying to flee the fire but it was on their bodies," a farmer named Hassan Abdel-Rasoul who was in the fields told the Associated Press.

Authorities have suspended all balloon flights in Luxor in the wake of the crash.

"We have never seen anything quite like this in Luxor before. It is an awful thing. For the safety of the tourists and the Egyptians I have ordered all the companies dealing with balloons to stop flights until we know exactly what happened and the reasons for it," the governor of Luxor, Ezzat Saad, told the BBC.

The disaster threatens to deliver yet another blow to the slowing tourism industry of Egypt which has been facing tough times in the wake of the political unrest for two years following the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak.

Reports are blaming the poor safety standards observed by the Egyptian authorities. Refuting the allegations, officials say that pilots and balloons are inspected at regular intervals.