The boss of Thomas Cook has held “constructive” talks the Egyptian prime minister as investigations into the “tragic deaths” of two Cook holidaymakers in Hurghada continue.
Chief executive Peter Fankhauser met with PM Mostafa Madbouly and minister of tourism Rania Al-Mashat on Wednesday (August 29) to discuss efforts to find out what killed John and Susan Cooper.
The couple fell ill while holidaying with Cook at the Steigenberger Aqua Magic hotel last week and passed away within hours of each other last Tuesday (August 21).
While detailed autopsies are ongoing, the Egyptian authorities have said the couple died of “natural causes”. Cook, meanwhile, has said there is no evidence their deaths were a result of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Mr and Mrs Cooper’s daughter Kelly Ormerod, who found her parents gravely ill in their hotel room, insists there was an unusual smell in the room the morning their condition deteriorated.
Fankhauser flew out to Egypt on Wednesday and met with the Egyptian prime minister and tourism minister that same evening.
“The prime minister and I gave Mr Fankhauser out absolute assurances the Egyptian authorities will leave no stone unturned in determining the actual cause of death,” said Al-Mashat.
“Similarly, the same reassurances have been given to Mr and Mrs Cooper’s daughter Kelly Ormerod and the British Ambassador in Egypt, John Casson.”
In a statement, Cook said: “Peter reiterated his personal commitment, and the commitment of everyone at Thomas Cook, to get to the bottom of what went wrong.
“It was a constructive discussion and the prime minister and minister of tourism gave their reassurance that they are doing all they can to ensure the investigation is thorough, transparent and provides the answers we need as swiftly as possible.”
Al-Masrat confirmed results of various tests to establish what happened to the Coopers would be released over the coming week.
Autopsies are being conducted by a team of forensic pathologists, he said, and are expect to make their conclusions “during the next week”.
“When the pathologists have completed their detailed forensic analysis, our priority will be, of course, to contact the Cooper family to explain the findings as they, more than anyone, need to know what took away John and Susan,” he said.
Al-Masrat added their bodies would likely be re-patriated next week upon completion of the tests.
Meanwhile, a separate working group, led by Egyptian attorney general Nail Sadeq, is examining “in forensic detail” the pertinent hygiene concerns at the hotel where the Coopers fell ill.
They are testing the food, water and air conditioning and have pledged to make their results public.
“All the details of the investigation will be shared in full transparency and available to all for scrutiny,” said Al-Masrat. “Again, it is anticipated this work will be concluded next week.”
Cook is understood to have commissioned its own tests at the hotel, also covering food hygiene, water and air conditioning. The results of these are also due next week.
Fankhauser also met with British ambassador to Egypt, John Casson, during his visit, as well as Cook’s deputy head of mission Helen Winterton, who flew out to Hurghada immediately after the deaths.
“We will continue to speak to the Egyptian authorities and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to ensure that we work together and prioritise the very best interests of the Cooper family,” Cook added. “The wellbeing of our customers in Egypt remains of paramount importance.”
Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer has praised Thomas Cook for its swift response to the deaths, adding Fankhauser's decision to fly to Egypt was a measure of both his and the operator's priorities.
"I, along with everyone at Abta, was shocked and saddened to hear of the deaths of John and Susan Cooper while they were on holiday in Hurghada last week," said Tanzer.
"Our deep sympathies are with their family, their friends and Mrs Cooper’s colleagues at Thomas Cook. It is tragic when a customer death occurs on holiday, and how a travel company responds is a test of its values and professionalism.
"The response of Thomas Cook in immediately sending their head of customer welfare to support the family, and in evacuating and repatriating 300 guests as a precautionary measure while investigations proceed, shows their commitment to their customers’ welfare.
"And the fact that Thomas Cook’s Chief Executive, Peter Fankhauser, has flown to Egypt to meet with the Egyptian prime minister shows the priority they, and he personally, give to matters of health and safety.
"We do not as yet know what caused the deaths of Mr and Mrs Cooper; Thomas Cook have promised to investigate the matter fully, and we await the results of that investigation.
"Thomas Cook, along with other Abta members, are committed to their customers’ welfare; promptness of response and transparency are crucial in order to continue to deliver the highest standards of health and safety to all our customers."
Following the deaths, Cook pulled all 301 of its guests out of the hotel citing a “raised level of illness”, offering them alternative accommodation or flights home.
Fankhauser, in the days following the tragedy, told various news outlets 13 people at the hotel had been suffering food poisoning, none of whom he said were in a serious condition.
Cook, it is understood, is yet to be granted access to the Coopers’ room at the hotel. Earlier this week, Fankhauser personally pledged “to get to the bottom” of the couple’s death.
John Cooper, 69, was taken ill last Tuesday morning (August 21) and died after his condition quickly deteriorated. His wife Susan, 63, a Thomas Cook agent in Burnley, passed away hours later.
Mrs Cooper’s colleagues paid touching tribute to their Chancery Walk colleague, describing her as the “life and soul” of the operator’s Burnley store.