Egypt says poison gas leak not behind death of 2 Britons

CAIRO — Egypt’s top prosecutor dismissed on Saturday speculation that the death of two British tourists in the Red Sea resort of Hurghada was caused by poisonous gas emissions in their hotel room, as the hotel attributed their deaths to “natural causes.”

An inspection by the prosecutor’s technical team of John and Susan Cooper’s room found that there were no toxic or harmful gas emissions or leaks, the prosecutor’s office said in a statement. All devices in the room were “functioning efficiently without any defects,” it added.

The prosecutor’s office is awaiting a forensic analysis of samples taken from the bodies to provide more details about the incident, it said. The statement came after the couple’s daughter, Kelly Ormerod, told Sky News that “something suspicious has gone on,” especially since her parents had not complained of any health problems prior to going on the holiday.

The Cooper couple’s deaths prompted tour operator Thomas Cook to evacuate its 301 customers, of various nationalities, from the Steigenberger Aqua Magic hotel as a “precautionary measure.” The company said the circumstances surrounding their deaths are “unclear” and that it received reports of “a raised level of illness among guests.”

In a statement Saturday, however, the hotel denied this, saying the couple’s death was due to “natural causes.”

“There are no indications to support allegations of an increased incidence of illness at the hotel. Such rash speculations should urgently be put aside out of respect for the family members of the deceased persons and for other guests,” the hotel said in an email to The Associated Press.

Also Saturday, Thomas Cook said approximately 100 Britons — roughly half of the U.K. guests they had staying at the hotel at the time — had returned home. The rest had opted to move to another hotel, the operator added.

Jackie Elliott, 51, from Swindon, fell ill while staying at the hotel with her husband Gordon, 59, and daughter Lucy, 19, she told Sky News on Saturday.

She was taken to hospital after passing blood and being sick every time she ate something in the hotel. She said she was unsure whether her sickness was caused by food poisoning or something to do with the hotel room, such as the air conditioning.

Janette Rawning, a guest evacuated from the hotel who arrived in Manchester along with her family on Saturday, said she only learned about the deaths two days after the incident happened.

“Thomas Cook kept it from us for two days,” she said. “So despite their (the Cooper couple) being sickness, vomiting and illness in the hotel, we went in, started as normal our holiday.”

“So any advice they could have given us for two days about avoiding food, being more careful, making sure the meat was cooked, or anything like that, they could have done loads of steps to mitigate any risks to us, and none was done at all. None. Nothing,” she added.

Tracy Wooffindin, another evacuated tourist, said she is inclined to believe that it is “a really unfortunate accident.”

Egyptian authorities dismissed criminal motives as being behind the deaths. An official statement by the Red Sea governorate on Friday said an initial medical examination of John Cooper showed he had suffered acute circulatory collapse and a sudden cardiac arrest. It also said Susan Cooper was later rushed to hospital after fainting and underwent resuscitation attempts for 30 minutes but died.

Speculation over the couple’s death swirled in the media on Friday, with some suggesting that carbon monoxide poisoning may have been the cause. A later statement by Thomas Cook said that while the company was “aware” of the speculation, there was “no evidence to support this.”

Egypt’s vital tourism industry has been dealt severe blow due to political turmoil that ensued after a 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. A 2015 Islamic State bombing of a Russian passenger plane over the Sinai Peninsula, which killed all 224 people on board, was among several incidents that led to the decimation of the country’s multibillion dollar industry. Russia subsequently imposed a two-year-ban on all flights to Egypt.

Earlier this year, Russian flights to Cairo resumed but flights to resort cities have yet to be decided upon.

Britain, another major source of visitors to Egypt, also suspended flights to Sharm el-Sheikh, the popular Red Sea resort in Sinai from which the doomed Russian airliner took off shortly before it crashed.

The government has gone to great lengths to bolster the sector by launching tourism campaigns, touting new archaeological discoveries, boosting security around historical sites and stepping up security at airports.