A search party of hundreds hunted for a hot-air balloon that had been reported catching fire and crashing in southern China, arriving in time to save only three of the seven people aboard.
Four Dutch tourists died in the crash Wednesday in Guilin, a popular tourist spot, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
The pilots of the balloon took off from Yangshuo County, then lost control of the craft, the agency reported. Government officials dispatched 400 searchers to find the balloon, which had caught fire at some point.
The two pilots and one other Dutch tourist survived the crash, CNN informs.
Hot-air ballooning has been available for about six years in Yangshuo and is one of the most expensive ways to get a view of the stunning scenery of green paddy fields, meandering rivers and streams as well as the knobbly karst hills that pepper the area.
The scenery, coupled with the chance to see traditional ways of rural life virtually unchanged for centuries have made this among the most popular tourist destinations in China, for foreigners and for Chinese.
An hour-long balloon ride costs about 800 yuan (£80). Three companies are approved to run these bird’s-eye tours, but one local tour operator said it was possible that unauthorised operators had entered the business.
One visitor wrote on the Iloho travel blog of her terrifying balloon ride in which the pilot – at 500m – told her with a laugh that the balloon had a problem with a hole in the silk.
She wrote: "We didn't think it was so funny and spent the 30 minutes it took for us to land in palpations of worry. Added to this terror was my crippling fear of heights: I should never have got into that basket…" She described how other friends went on a white-knuckle ride that ended with a crash-landing among trees on the side of a steep karst hill, Times Online reports.