John Cooper and Susan Cooper arrived in the idyllic town of Hurghada with their daughter and three grandchildren on a package tour organized by Thomas Cook, the Britain-based international travel agency. CAIRO: What caused the mysterious deaths of a British couple in their hotel room at an Egyptian Red Sea resort?
Its a question Egyptian and British authorities, the couples travel agents, and millions of potential tourists are asking. The answer could arrive by next week, as Egyptian authorities and top executives at the travel company the couple used to book their vacation have vowed to release the results of an ongoing investigation.
Whatever the answer, the deaths have already dealt another major blow to Egypts tourism sector, the countrys primary source of foreign currency.
John and Susan Cooper arrived in the idyllic town of Hurghada with their daughter and three grandchildren on a package tour organized by Thomas Cook, the Britain-based international travel agency. Pictures of the couple posted on social media hours before their death showed them tanned and smiling at Steigenberger Aqua Magic hotel.
Their daughter, Kelly Omerod, told Sky News that she had last seen her parents around 1:30 a.m. on Tuesday after a family meal. Later that morning, Omerod said she found her parents ill.
Egyptian authorities responded immediately. In a statement, they said John Cooper, 69, had died in his hotel room at 11 a.m. because of a "sudden failure in the heart muscle and respiratory failure." Susan Cooper, 63, was taken to a hospital five hours later in "a state of fainting" and died shortly after 5 p.m., also apparently from heart failure.
But their daughter refuses to believe her parents died of natural causes. They were both in great health, she said. Several guests had complained of stomach ailments after eating the hotel food, various British media outlets reported. The sudden deaths led Thomas Cook to evacuate more than 300 of its clients from the resort, and fly many back to the United Kingdom, British media reports said.
"I watched them die before my very eyes, and they had exactly the same symptoms," Omerod told Sky News. "I believe something suspicious has gone on. I dont believe anyone has entered the room, but something has happened in that room that caused them to be taken away from us."
Sven Hirschler, a spokesman for Deutsche Hospitality, which owns the Steinberger hotel, told the BBC that the illness levels among the more than 1,600 guests were not unusual. He added that John Cooper had complained of low blood pressure and been treated by the hotels doctor the day he died.
Thomas Cooks top executive told Sky News on Sunday that its experts were testing the food, water and air conditioning units in the couples hotel and would have the results within 10 days.
"There is no evidence that it is a carbon monoxide poisoning," said chief executive Peter Fankhauser. "We have no evidence, but I dont want to rule out anything before I really know the cause."
Adding to the mystery were comments made by the governor of the Red Sea province, Maj. Gen. Ahmed Abdullah, on Sunday. Speaking to reporters, he said, "there was a strange odor in the room" of the Coopers, according to a Facebook post by his office. He added that Egyptian authorities had sent specialists to inspect the ventilation and air conditioning systems.
Tourism in Egypt has fallen sharply since the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011 that ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Terrorist attacks, including the downing of a Russian passenger jet filled with Red Sea tourists in 2015, have further deterred tourists. Since then, there have been several smaller terrorist attacks targeting tourists. The arrest of a Lebanese tourist this year for posting comments critical of Egypt has not helped either.