11:00 - 27 May 2004. Ufo fever has hit South Devon with one amateur photographer snapping this "flying saucer" over Brixham.
The Herald Express switchboard was swamped with calls yesterday from readers who said they spotted mystery objects over Torbay. Some reckoned what they saw was a Jumbo jet-sized party balloon while others accepted it as a UFO. There was a suspicion the cigar-shaped craft was nothing more harmless than a an "8 Metre Airship" sold for £12.95 by local shops. Police and coastguards said they had no reports of any close encounters.
Chef Nick Borne from Paignton, who took the main picture, was enjoying a meal out with his family on Tuesday evening when the flying phenomenon strayed into view. Nick, who works at Aromas Cafe in Hyde Road, was using his mobile phone to snap panoramic views from the Berry Head Hotel when the craft suddenly appeared in shot.
A bemused Nick secured a couple of images and continued eating. But the object, which he captured for posterity at 6.30pm, was witnessed by at least 20 others elsewhere in the Bay at around the same time. One mystified skywatcher was retired British Aerospace engineer Roy Dutton. He tracked an object for 20 minutes through a high-powered telescope. He reckoned it was flying at 10,000 ft and was at least the size of a Jumbo jet.
Mr Dutton, of Brunel Park, Watcombe, Torquay, said: "The telescope magnifies by 80 times.
"At first I thought it was just an airship but I could see it clearly and there were no signs of control or propulsion. There were no features whatsoever. It was jet black. It was just like a great big party balloon. It moved slowly along from north to south over Torquay. I have never seen anything like this before. I know from my experience of aircraft that it was flying at about 10,000 ft and it was very big, at least the size of a Jumbo jet. After about 15 minutes it stopped. Then it just wobbled and ascended to probably double the altitude, drifting away quite quickly broadside on towards the south east out over the Channel. I lost it eventually at about 5.25pm when I had to move the telescope because of the trees." "What concerned me was that it was in the flight path often used by aircraft approaching Exeter airport. My first guess was that it was some sort of experimental balloon, in which case the authorities should be investigating.
"I didn't attempt to photograph it because I know from experience that it is very difficult to capture a good image of anything at that height."
Teenagers Helen McGregor, 15, and her 14-year-old cousin Hayley Tucker, reported seeing an object in the sky from Ellacombe.
"We all just stood there. Nobody said anything because we didn't know what it was. It looked like a kite but it was really, really high. It was just a long black tube. We ran back to tell my auntie but when we looked again it had gone," said Helen.
Laura Lamont, of Moore Lane, Watcombe, was with a crowd of about 10 people on Babbacombe Downs who looked up in astonishment.
"It was really amazing. We were all stuck for words. During the time we were watching it a red helicopter went across and there was a low-flying jet which went passed. They were nothing like this. It was so high up in the sky and it just seemed to have stopped there, dead. Lots of others were pointing up to it too."
Five golfers in Torquay interrupted their game to gaze in wonder at the cylindrical object which they said remained still in the sky for 15 minutes, the length of time that Nick Borne saw it before leaving the Berry Head Hotel with wife Claire and nine-year-old daughter Maddison.
"I was just panning around with the mobile when the UFO popped up and I took the pictures," said Nick. "I'm still quite sceptical about it all. At the end of the day it was something I could not identify. It was stationary and conical shaped with a dome in the middle. I've no idea what it was," he added.
He did not alert other diners and left with the object still hanging in the sky. Simon Wills, who runs Babbacombe Model Village, also saw the phenomenon, which he reckoned might have been a balloon of some description which came away from its mooring.
"It was long and black with a shiny texture. It floated over Oddicombe Beach to Petitor and beyond," he said.
Gary Close, from Pendennis Road, Hele, saw it through his high magnification binoculars.
"The end facing me had a yellow tinge. If it was an escaped balloon I could not see any wire or rigging attached. It was very peculiar. It's difficult to say how big it was."
Other witnesses were Adam Nesbit from Watcombe and Pat Shemwell from Babbacombe who said: "It was around for about half-an-hour. I gave up looking at it in the end."
BY COLLEEN SMITH AND PAUL JAMES
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