Relaxing on a terrace of a private villa overlooking the sparkling waters of the Marmaris Sea, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had little idea he would be facing the most momentous 12 hours of his life.
But as darkness fell over the luxury home in the popular tourist resort of Marmaris he received a telephone call telling him he his life was in peril as well as the future of Turkey.
On the other end of the line was a military commander warning him three Blackhawk helicopters carrying rebel soldiers were on their way to kill or capture him.
In a panic the 62-year-old Turkish president was whisked under armed guard to a private jet waiting at a nearby airfield as the three choppers swooped on the resort where he had been staying.
But even aboard the presidential jet the terror for the Turkish leader was not over as he was told two rogue F-16 fighter jets were scouring the skies to shoot down his jet.
Only the quick thinking of his pilots averted disaster as they were able to mask the identity of the Gulfstream presidential jet and trick the rebel pilots into thinking they were a passenger jet.
Two hours later Mr Erdogan was safely in Istanbul and having rallied those loyal to him put down the coup.
The thought of being killed or even taken prisoner was most likely furthest from Mr Erdogan’s mind when he arrived at the private villa owned by former rally driver Serkan Yazici.
Yazici, who is in his 40s and enjoys posting photos of himself on Instagram with a parade of beautiful women, has known the president for more than three decades.
His father Ibrahim, who died of a heart attack in 2012, was a close friend of the president thanks to his own political career.
Ibrahim was a member of the Turkish Parliament for two terms from 1996 to 2002, as a deputy for the centre-right Motherland Party (ANAP) and the True Path Party (DYP).
His family own the Yazici Mares hotel as well as an adjoining hotel, The Grand Yazici Club Turban, where British tourists were woken by the sound of gunfire as rebel troops attempted to seek out and kill the president.
Mr Erdogan admitted later he cheated possible death by just 15 minutes and credited a telephone call from First Army Commander Umit Dundar an hour before the coup began with saving his life.
According to reports in the Turkish media Commander Dundar told him rebel troops were heading for his villa in the Marmaris resort to either kill him or take him prisoner.
The commander assured him of his support telling him ‘You are our legitimate president.
‘I am at your side, there is a huge coup and the situation is out of control in Ankara. Come to Istanbul and I will secure your access to the roads and accommodations there.’
As the president’s guards sealed off the villa, Mr Erdogan was rushed by car to the nearest airport at Dalaman where his Gulfstream IV jet had been refueled and was ready for takeoff.
By the time the £30m jet was airborne three Blackhawk attack helicopters carrying special forces were approaching the holiday villa.
The soldiers stormed the hotel looking for Mr Erdogan to either capture or kill him – but were 30 minutes too late.
Soldiers loyal to the president engaged in a fierce gun battle with rebels.
Tourist staying in the hotel were woken by the sound of low flying helicopters and then gunfire as the battle raged.
Among those left terrified by the gun battle were the Dignan family who were forced to take cover on the bedroom floor.
Mike and his wife Sarah lay huddled together with their children as gunfire rang out.
Mr Dignan, from Rosyth, Scotland, told the Sunday Post newspaper it was the ‘scariest night of his life.’
He told the paper: ‘I was woken up by an almighty rumble. I thought there were tanks.
‘It turned out it was military helicopters. They are black so we could barely see them in the darkness.
‘They were shining a light into the hotel next door. We started hearing small gunfire. It was the odd shot and then it became more fierce.
‘Police started firing at the helicopters. Then the helicopters started firing back. We shut ourselves in the bedroom.
‘We heard shouting and people running around outside our complex, some past our door. Soldiers were trying to get in the hotel next door to get Erdogan and the police were fighting back.’
IT worker Mike, 40, and bakery worker Sarah, 39, were almost two weeks into their holiday when the coup was launched on Friday night.
Another hotel guest, Gertjan de Graaf, from the Netherlands, said: ‘We did not sleep a wink of course, but I’m still not tired.
‘I doubt I’ll sleep well tonight. A Turk this morning told us we should go back to the Netherlands.
‘We don’t want to, but now it looks like we will be sent to another hotel. My mind is haunted though. What if the military come back? This resort is still connected somehow to Erdogan.’
Mr de Graaf and his family arrived back at their hotel around 11.30pm on the night of the coup, turned on the TV and saw the news about the chaos in the country.
‘I thought it was bad for those people, but Istanbul and Ankara are far away, so I didn’t worry and went to sleep.’
But they were woken at 3.30am by the popping of guns – which they thought at wife were fireworks – and his wife Theresa went to the door to see what was going on.
She was met by the sight of military rebels running around the hotel armed with machine guns.
‘You want to see what is going on, but she found herself face to face with a soldier with a machine gun in his hands,’ continued Mr de Graaf.
The soldiers were shouting in broken English: ‘Where Erdogan stay? Erdogan stay?’
Mr de Graaf woke up their children and the family hid in the bathroom, his daughter was crying.
The police then arrived at about 5am and there was more gunfire, explosions and helicopters overhead.
‘It went on and on. Occasionally we heard loud explosions,’ said Mr de Graaf, who didn’t leave the bathroom until 6am when the carnage had died down.
Two bullets had shattered the glass in the bedroom window. The towel that was hanging outside on the balcony was riddled with seven bullets.
The family weren’t allowed to leave their room until 9am.
The Turkish daily newspaper Hurriyet reported that during the mission to kill or capture the President one of the helicopters suffered a malfunction and was forced to make an emergency landing.
Outnumbered, the 40 special forces sent to find Mr Erdogan fled into the surrounding mountains.
On board his private Gulfstream jet – one of four presidential plans – Mr Erdogan was being fully briefed on the coup attempt.
He later told CNN: ‘An operation was carried out in Marmaris, directed against me. Two of my guards were killed. Had I stayed there 10 or 15 minutes longer, I would have been killed or captured.’
The tyrannical leader has amassed a vast £139million fortune, with at least three palaces across Turkey.
The latest addition to his collection, the sprawling White Palace on the outskirts of the capital city of Ankara, cost an astronomical £500million to build – more than twice the original estimates.
The palatial home is decorated with silk wallpaper costing as much as £2,000 a roll, while the carpet bill alone came to more than £7million.
Critics have described the building as so extravagant that it would have made Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, known for his love of gold and jewel encrusted fittings, blush.
According to the president, however, the expense was worth it as it puts Turkey on the global map.
Meanwhile his ‘shopaholic’ wife tours the world at his side and spending as she goes.
Despite claiming she leads a humble lifestyle – even fermenting apples to make her own vinegar – Emine has a passion for designer clothes and expensive antiques, blowing more than £37,000 in just one shopping trip to a bazaar in Warsaw.
But while tanks rolled across the two main bridges in Istanbul and gunfire and explosions echoed round the city, Erdogan was mid-way through the 400 mile flight.
He was unaware that at 10pm two F-16 fighter jets took off from Akinci airbase just north of Ankara on a seek and destroy mission.
According to aviation expert David Cenciotti the jet fighters searched the skies with their nose-mounted radar.
The pilots of the twin engine Gulfstream would have been made aware that the F-16s were looking for them to shoot down or escort to an airfield controlled by the coup plotters.
According to Mr Cenciotti the pilots altered their transponder signal so that it made the Gulfstream look like a civilian Turkish airline jet.
The transponder is an electronic signal that reveals the plane’s identity and used by air traffic controllers to keep track of planes in the air.
The quick thinking by the Gulfstream pilots undoubtedly saved Mr Erdogan’s life as the presidential jet assumed the ‘identity’ THY 8456 – that of a Turkish airlines flight.
It is thought the rebel pilots were unsure of the identity of the jet above the darkened skies of Istanbul and didn’t want to take the risk shooting down a passenger jet.
‘The risk of shooting down another plane, and losing credibility too, could be a factor affecting the coup’s F-16s [ability]to shoot down his plane and kill Erdogan,’ Mr Cenciotti wrote on his blog The Aviationist.
Mr Erdogan’s plane circled above Istanbul airport for 30 minutes before troops were finally able to confirm it was secure to land.
Once on the ground, Mr Erdogan called a Turkish TV station through Face time and urged the people to take to the streets and rise up against the coup.
Thousands poured on to the streets and within hours the coup was at and end with bloody reprisals, and possibly execution of the ring leaders, likely to take place.
Source – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3695470/