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The RAF and the Gwent Police have launched official investigations into an incident in South Wales last week when a low-flying helicopter is believed to have startled a horse, leading to the death of its female rider.

Melanie Stephenson-Dodds, 39, suffered fatal injuries when her mount, a Welsh Cob named Ed, was hit by two cars on the A48.

She was understood to have been riding on a bridleway near the road with a friend when the helicopter passed over, startling Ed and causing him to collide with the vehicles.

Melanie was taken to the Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport but was pronounced dead on arrival. Ed was put down at the scene as a result of his injuries. Neither the car nor the drivers were injured.

Melanie’s family described her as “an accomplished horsewoman”, who had recently returned to riding after a break of several years.

In statement the family said: “Melanie was a bundle of life, always smiling and happy. Her greatest love was her children — 18-year-old Kayleigh and 10-year-old Keiron.”

RAF spokesperson Paul Sykes confirmed that the incident was being investigated by the RAF police and said Melanie’s family could be compensated if a military aircraft was found to have contributed the incident.

“This incident will be very thoroughly investigated but at the moment we are unable to confirm there was an aircraft in that area at the time of the incident,” explains Mr Sykes

This tragic death is the latest in a number of incidents where riders and low flying aircraft have come into conflict, with a number of riders claiming to have experienced close shaves.

“We are not aware of any increase in the number of incidents involving low flying aircraft and horses,” says Mr Sykes. Since the UK low flying system was introduced in 1979 there has been only one horse rider killed as a result of an incident with a low flying military aircraft.”