On this day in history : 4th January 1967 – Donald Campbell is killed whilst attempting to break his own world water speed record – in his jet powered boat, the Bluebird K7….

Donald Campbell – fair use

It was a cold crisp day, ice surrounded Coniston Water, which is the fifth largest lake in the Lake District; at five miles long it has depths of up to 184 feet deep…. For the previous nine weeks Campbell’s attempt at breaking his water speed record had been hampered by bad weather and engine troubles…. Bluebird, a 12-year-old hydroplane, had been refitted with a lighter, more powerful Bristol Orpheus engine, from a Folland Gnat aircraft….

Bluebird K7, on display at Goodwood Motor Racing Circuit in 1960 – Sheppane at English Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0

This particular January morning the waters of Coniston were smooth and Bluebird was launched at 8.45am – it entered the measured one kilometre run at 8.46am…. The first run southbound recorded an average speed of 297mph over the kilometre…. Campbell needed to do 303mph on the return run to achieve the 300mph average to beat his record…. The accident happened 200yds from the end of the second run….

Travelling at some 300mph Bluebird’s nose lifted; the boat then flipped over backwards and somersaulted 50 feet into the air – then fell nose first towards the lake…. Shrouded by a dense curtain of water Bluebird disappeared beneath the surface….

Coniston Water from Holme Fell – Mick Knapton CC BY-SA 3.0

Attempts were made by divers to recover Campbell’s body from the 120ft deep water – but to no avail…. Although the wreckage of the boat was found recovery was called off…. Campbell’s teddy bear mascot, Mr Whoppit, was found floating amongst the debris, as was his pilot’s helmet….

Mr Whoppit in the cockpit at Lake Eyre, 1964 – Fair use

Recovery finally took place between October 2000, when the first sections of Bluebird were raised and May 2001, when Campbell’s remains were recovered…. He was buried in Coniston Cemetery on the 12th of September 2001…. Had he of been successful in his water speed attempt it would have been his eighth world record – four of which had been set on Coniston Water….

Campbell’s gravestone in Coniston – Image courtesy : Thruxton – own work – CC BY-SA 3.0

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