The night train from Cairo to Luxor was packed with people, many of them families with children, travelling from the capital to their home towns for an important Muslim feast day. The third-class compartments were crammed with at least twice the official maximum load. As the train rattled southward and passengers slept, a cooking gas cylinder in the fifth carriage exploded and started a fire, which rapidly spread. Screaming people, their clothes alight, tried to get away from the conflagration, but the coaches were so crowded that no one could make their way to the front of the train to escape the flames, nor warn the driver of what was happening to his train.
The blazing train ran on as the fire inexorably engulfed rolling stock and occupants. Some passengers, desperate to escape the inferno, threw themselves onto the track, where many died of their injuries. Before the engineers discovered what was happening and uncoupled the burning section of the train, seven carriages crammed with third-class passengers had been completely consumed by the fire. The train eventually came to a halt in the small farming district of Al Ayyat, only about 48 km (30 mi) from Cairo. Farmers and villagers attempted to help the badly injured survivors. They could do nothing for the countless victims in the burnt-out carriages.
The official government figure for fatalities is woefully low. It chooses to ignore the overcrowding so common on Egyptian trains and the fact that so many travelers, together with their identities, had been reduced to ash.
When was the Al Ayyat Train Fire: February 20 2002
Where was the Al Ayyat Train Fire: Al Ayyat, Egypt
What was the Al Ayyat Train Fire death toll: The official figure is 383; many consider the real figure to be closer to 1,000.
You should know: Some time after the disastrous train fire, the people of Al Ayyat came to the rescue again when one passenger train ran into another that had stopped suddenly after hitting a water buffalo wandering on the line.