The night the sky shook
For a few astonishing min- utes, it was like a scene from Top Gun.
Out of the calm of a warm spring evening, two fighter jets suddenly screamed over Bath in an incident that was as loud as it was intriguing.
Since the drama of last week, a fuller picture of the startling sequence of events has emerged – although the odd conspiracy theory still persists.
The two Typhoon Eurofighters had been scrambled from their base in Lincolnshire after a privately-owned helicopter began emitting the distress signal for a hijacking as it flew over the Cotswolds towards Bath.
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The £126 million jets caught up with it over the city, swooping low and loud over homes in scenes that brought people running into gardens and streets from Peasedown St John to Weston.
Later one of the pair appeared to some onlookers to be concentrating on a white object much higher in the sky, which is thought to have been a solar balloon of the sort that can be made at home.
The Ministry of Defence has insisted that it was only the Gazelle helicopter, which had been taking racehorse owner Anthony Knott home after a day at Aintree, that had been of interest to the ace Quick Reaction Alert crews.
The Typhoons were cleared to fly at supersonic speeds and created a sonic boom, which was heard in Bath, Swindon, Coventry, Rugby and Oxford.
Police said the chopper had a faulty transponder, while the MoD said it had been "transmitting inadvertently on an emergency frequency".
The 1973 former military aircraft is owned by Dorset-based Buckland Newton Hire and has flown more than 5,000 hours.
It is not clear who was piloting the chopper, but the firm's Martin Perrett is an experienced pilot.
He declined to comment to The Bath Chronicle this week, other than to suggest that there had not been a fault with his helicopter.
But 47-year-old Mr Knott has told how he and his 21-year-old daughter Katie, 21, and son, Lewis, 27, had feared they would die as the helicopter was swirled around by up to 40 degrees by the jets.
Mr Knott, a farmer from Sturminster Newton in Dorset, said: "The first jet just came up from underneath us straight across the front of the helicopter. Our pilot said, 'hang on there's going to be some turbulence', and the next thing we knew we were falling out of our seats and it was just like being inside a ping-pong ball.
"I thought I was going to die for a minute or two. We were strapped in but I hit my head on the roof. It wasn't too bad a knock but the whole thing was frightening – like a Bond film or Top Gun. We hadn't heard the plane approach. One minute we were talking normally, and then whoooosh! We were only flying at about 800 feet."
Mr Knott, who was flying in a helicopter for the first time, added: "What happened was nothing to do with our pilot and he did an amazing job to keep control."
On the subject of the mystery object, an MoD spokesman said: "The Typhoons went out because of the helicopter and then came back. They did not report any other unusual air activity."
An eyewitness who looked at it through a powerful telescope said it looked as if it was made of balloons strung together to form an arrowhead shape.
Another witness, Simon Barrett, who was visiting relatives in the city, said: "From the front of the house we could see a helicopter, and the jets came in really close and swooped in behind and then in front of it and then slowed right down. It looked as though they were so close they were going to crash. I was more concerned that a crash would happen than anything else."
He said the jets flew around the mystery object several times before leaving the area.
Former TA soldier Terry Organ, who lives in Oldfield Park, said: "The noise was unbelievable. I honestly thought it (the jet) was going to come down."
He said he had never seen planes flying with their noses up and tails down in such a way.
Onlooker Sean Whyte said one jet had flown as low as 2,000ft over Weston and Odd Down in pursuit of the helicopter.
"The jet was weaving around the helicopter as if to warn it off. The noise was incredible," he said.
Dozens of people turned to Twitter to post comments and pictures, with @lgladdy saying: "Amazing fighter jet display going on over Bath right now."