Donald Campbell died yesterday while driving his jet-engined boat Bluebird on Coniston Water. He was 46.
The 12-year-old boat was making more than 300 m.p.h. when its nose lifted. Then it tipped over backwards and somersaulted 50 feet in the air and fell nose first. A curtain of spray rose. When it subsided Bluebird was gone.
Divers tried to recover Mr Campbell’s body from some 120 feet of water, but there was not enough equipment. Lifting tackle and submarine lighting will be available when attempts are resumed today. Only plastic buoyancy bags and the two sponsons which carried the knife edges on which Bluebird planed at high sped were brought back yesterday, and they lie now by the slipway from which the craft was launched.
Yesterday morning was clear, with ice around the lake and snow on the hills when Bluebird was launched at about 8.45. Mr Campbell, whose latest pursuit of the world water speed record has been troubled for nine weeks by weather and engine failure, gave the thumbs-up and started his first run on seemingly smooth water.
Southbound he recorded an average of 297 m.p.h. over the kilometre, which left him with 303 m.p.h. to do on the return run if he was to achieve the 300 m.p.h. average which was his aim. Four minutes later he started again.
Bluebird met some slight ripples and Mr Campbell said over the radio, “She’s tramping.” A moment later he said “full power,” then “the water is not good, I can’t see much,” then “I am upside down,” and at last “she’s going.” The next voice on the radio was a timekeeper’s. “Complete accident, I’m afraid. Stand by!” he said.
Mrs Campbell – Tonia Bern, the cabaret artist – came form London to Coniston last night.
The chief official observer, Mr Norman Buckley, of Windermere, said the accident had happened at more than 300 m.p.h. and within 200 yards of the end of the measured kilometre. Almost certainly the accident had happened because Bluebird had been travelling too fast. Mr Campbell had always said if the nose lifted as little as three degrees the boat would topple over backwards.
Had the attempt succeeded it would have been Mr Campbell’s eighth world water-speed record, and his fifth record on Coniston Water. The record remains his, however, with a speed of 276.38 m.p.h. achieved in Australia in 1964.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010