Donald Campbell

Campbell Dies at the Wheel

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Donald Campbell died on January 4 trying to better his own world water-speed record of 276.33 mph. The average speed of two runs over a measured kilometre is needed to establish an official record — and Campbell, in his jet-powered Bluebird had notched up a speed of 297 mph on the first run. He was only about 150 yards away from the end of his second run when Bluebird sailed about 50 feet into the air, looped, and nose-dived into the water. There was a cloud of spray, as if a bomb had burst. Rescuers who raced to the spot found only Campbell's helmet, shoes, oxygen mask, and his Teddy bear mascot bobbing on the water. Together with Campbell's body — he had been strapped into his seat — the craft sank at least 120 feet. Donald Malcolm Campbell, 45 years old when he died, was the son of the equally famous Sir Malcolm Campbell — who in his time had held world speed records on land and water. They were photographed together in 1926 [not shown here]. Campbell was trained as an engineer and later became a director of an engineering firm at Horley. His first attempt at breaking speed records was in 1949; the then record of 141 mph had been set up by his father in 1939, and the attempt (which failed) was made just nine months after Sir Malcolm had died in his sleep. But in 1955 Campbell established a world water-speed record of 202.32 mph, raising it over the years to his best of 276.33 mph in Australia in December 1964 — a triumph he celebrated with his wife, Tonia, and chief mechanic Leo Villa. In his Bluebird jet car  Campbell also sought to emulate his father's land-speed records, and succeeded in Australia on July 17 1964 with a speed of 403.1 mph. Thereafter, he devoted himself to water-speed records. Campbell did not die as he would have wished — for he was both fond of living and as frightened of death as his fellow men, who regarded Campbell with incredulity, and admiration.

(Reprinted from the Illustrated London News, January 14, 1967)

Bluebird flips during Donald Campbell's world water speed record attempt January 4, 1967.
Black & white movie with sound (3 MB AVI, 39 seconds)

[Note: I did not create this vidcap; the quality is a bit less than optimal. —LF]

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