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Real Life

Real Life: My hot air balloon ride from hell

Without warning we were suddenly plummeting from the sky.

By Mitchell Jordan

Adele, 25, from Melbourne, VIC, shares her true life story.

Stepping outside into the crisp morning air, I wrapped a scarf around my shoulders.
It was still dark and the sun wouldn't rise for another hour. Despite the early wake up, I was buzzing with excitement.
I was on a week-long tour of Egypt with three mates and we were about to go on a dawn hot-air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings, where pharaohs were buried.
Once we got to the take-off site, I saw that not everyone shared my enthusiasm.
"I'm terrified," one traveller admitted as air was blown into the giant balloon.
"Don't worry," I said. "I went up in a hot-air balloon in Melbourne a few weeks back and it was fine."
I was so excited to be in Egypt.
After listening to the safety instructions from the pilot, the 20 of us were split into five sections of the balloon's basket to keep it even.
Zoe, a 22-year-old Aussie was in the basket compartment next to mine. We got chatting to each other, and both gasped in excitement as the pilot fired up the burner and we ascended slowly into the clear sky.
I couldn't stop snapping away on my phone and looking at the ancient city of Luxor 450 metres below.
For close to an hour, we floated through the air watching the sun rise before starting our descent.
"Get into the landing position," the pilot said.
We all squatted on our haunches and held onto the ropes inside the basket as the balloon began to touch down.
I briefly caught a glimpse of the ground, which appeared rocky and uneven. It didn't seem like a good place to land.
The pilot must have thought the same, because he quickly ignited the flame to steer the balloon back upwards. We all looked at one another in concern.
"Close call!" someone joked.
Me in the hot air balloon.
Ten minutes later, the pilot shouted for us to get ready again. Suddenly, a gust of wind blew up out of nowhere, throwing dirt and sand into our faces.
Thud!
The basket crashed to the ground and tipped over.
Shrieks sounded in my ear as I was thrown around the basket, crashing into the others. Then the balloon suddenly lifted above us, dragging us up with it.
Screams of terror filled the air.
I was in agony, cut and bruised all over.
As we smashed into the desert again, the giant canvas flailed violently.
Just then, some bystanders who'd seen what had happened jumped in and tried to bring the balloon down with their weight, but the wind was too strong and we lurched up again before plummeting down with another thud.
The basket tipped over, and we all tried desperately to crawl out.
As I scurried out on my hands and knees, I saw tourists who'd been in the basket with me lying motionless on the ground, covered in blood.
I felt my legs buckle when I saw that one of them was Zoe.
Going up in the balloon was thrilling at first.
I limped over to her and felt a wave of relief that her eyes were open and she was breathing. But blood was gushing from a deep gash in her head.
"It's going to be okay," I told Zoe.
We were both bundled into an ambulance and taken to the hospital.
My whole body ached and I was shaking in shock.
The hospital was chaotic, as staff tried madly to attend to everyone.
Although Zoe had whacked her head, a CT scan showed she'd be okay. My cuts were treated and the painkillers began to take effect.
I used my phone to call Mum through Facebook.
"There's been an accident," I choked. "The balloon crashed, but I'm fine."
She started crying.
A few hours later, my tour group gathered in one of the hospital rooms where the leader updated us.
Police inspecting the site in Luxor.
Apparently, heavy winds had spread across Egypt and the pilot lost control. He'd been knocked unconscious, leaving the balloon without a driver.
A South African man had been killed.
I knew it could so easily have been me.
Four people from the balloon company, including the pilot, had been detained for questioning.
Our group left Luxor later that afternoon for the final two days of our tour in Cairo.
None of us were in the mood for exploring. My back was so bad, I just stayed in the hotel.
Back in Melbourne, Mum and my family met me at the airport with hugs and tears.
I've had nightmares ever since and still freak out every time I drive over a speed bump. It feels like I'm back in the balloon's basket all over again.
Going to Egypt had always been my dream. Now, I just feel lucky to have survived.

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