Cumbria

Donald Campbell's daughter marks 50th anniversary of Bluebird crash

  • 4 January 2017
  • From the section Cumbria
Media captionHundreds remember "hero" and record-breaker Donald Campbell 50 years after his death.

The daughter of record-breaker Donald Campbell has placed flowers at the spot where he died on Coniston Water 50 years ago.

Gina Campbell said she was "humbled" his achievements were still recognised, half a century on from his death.

She and former friends and colleagues took to the water as part of several days of events to mark the anniversary.

Campbell died at 08:51 GMT on 4 January 1967, while trying to break his own water speed record in Bluebird.

Follow our live coverage of the anniversary

Commemorative events, including a flypast by an RAF jet, are taking place in Coniston over the next few days.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Bluebird crashed in January 1967, killing Donald Campbell

Campbell was travelling at more than 300mph (483 km/h) when the Bluebird K7 boat was catapulted 50ft (15m) into the air after its nose lifted.

The 45-year-old was killed instantly as the boat hit the water and disintegrated.

His remains and boat wreckage were not recovered until 2001 by engineer Bill Smith, who is restoring Bluebird at his yard in Newcastle.

Campbell was just 200 yards (183m) from the end of the second leg of his attempt when the crash happened.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Gina Campbell clutched her father's teddy bear mascot, Mr Whoppit, which was found in the wreckage.

Ms Campbell was among a small party to take to the lake, where prayers were said at the exact time of the crash.

She clutched her father's teddy bear mascot, Mr Whoppit, which was found among the wreckage.

A public remembrance service also took place at his memorial on the village green, before more wreaths were laid at Coniston Cemetery.

She said: "My dad did not do things for public display but I think he would be delighted to see the public here today.

"I feel so humbled and honoured that what my father achieved all those years ago is still remembered in the way it is.

"If my father could have chosen a way to die it would have been this way.

"If he had died a couple of weeks ago there would have been a few paragraphs in the Daily Telegraph. But here we are in 2017 talking about a hero that I still remember as a handsome young man.

"The enormity of what he did I just didn't grasp for a long time. I never quite appreciated the magnitude of what he did.

"I'm so pleased and proud it's not just old fogies like me that have been inspired by what he did. It's young people too."

She recalled receiving the news of her father's death while she was working abroad.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Gina Campbell was joined by friends and former colleagues of her father

She said: "On the day he died I was working in a ski resort and got a message there was a phone call for me.

"I had to go down to the hotel phone to be told my father had died. It was slightly surreal, but somehow I knew.

"In those days you didn't get phone calls abroad unless it was bad news.

"My mind just went to nothing. It went blank.

"I had never really feared for my father's life because he always came home. It was always the reward that counted and not the risk."


Donald Campbell

Image copyright PA
  • Campbell was born on 23 March 1921 in Surrey and was the son of speed record breaker Sir Malcolm Campbell
  • He initially used his father's old boat Bluebird K4 in record-breaking attempts
  • In 1960 he survived a horrific crash in the US while trying to break the land speed record
  • The Bluebird K7 boat was already 12 years old at the time of the Coniston Water crash
  • He set eight world speed records - seven on land
  • Campbell's lucky mascot - a 9ins "Mr Whoppit" bear from 1956 - was recovered with his body in 2001

Paul Hannaford, chairman of the Speed Record Club, which has jointly organised the anniversary events, said Campbell's achievements would "never be equalled."

He said: "Donald Campbell was a great patriot and a very brave man.

"His world speed records on land and on water in the same calendar year will never be bettered.

"To many of us he is an absolute hero and never did anything for personal gain. It was always about prestige and advancing British engineering.

"He wanted nothing more than to showcase what Britain could do best, which was so important in the late 1940s when the country was still recovering from the war.

"What we're doing at Coniston is a celebration of a great man's achievements."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Bill Smith discovered the wreckage of Bluebird and salvaged the vessel in 2001

Donald Campbell took up the mantle of his father Sir Malcolm Campbell, who died in 1948 and had also broken speed records.

In 1955 he famously told reporters: "If you're going to succeed, you've got put what you're trying to do first. Way before your own comfort, way before your own pleasure and way before your own family considerations."

It is hoped a restored Bluebird will take to Coniston Water again later this year or in 2018.

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