January 4, 2008

January 4 | Donald Campbell

March 23, 1921 – January 4, 1967: Age 45

Donald Campbell was born to speed. His father, Sir Malcolm Campbell, held 13 world speed records. Donald himself set seven water speed records and one land speed record, becoming the first person to set both water and land speed records in the same year (1964). Had he lived, he might have equaled his father's achievements in terms of numbers of records set.

In January 1967 he tried for his 8th water speed record at Coniston Water in Cumbria, England in Bluebird K7, a boat he designed himself and in which he had set four previous records. He completed a perfect run at over 300 mph, then decided to return down the lake without refuelling, and without waiting for his wake to subside. On this second run he achieved a speed of more than 320 mph, which would have been enough to set the record, but when he reached the stretch for the official measurement he met his own wake from the outbound journey. He was in touch with his team by radio, and his last words were recorded:
"Pitching a bit down here...Probably from my own wash...Straightening up now on track...Rather close to Peel Island...Tramping like mad...er... Full power...Tramping like hell here... I can't see much... and the water's very bad indeed...I can't get over the top... I'm getting a lot of bloody row in here... I can't see anything... I've got the bows up... I'm going...oh...."

His bow lost contact with the water and the boat pitched up suddenly, did a complete somersault, and broke up on hitting the water again. Campbell was killed immediately. Poignantly, his teddy bear mascot "Mr. Whoppitt" was found right away, but Campbell's body and indeed the wreck of the Bluebird were not recovered until 2001, nearly a quarter century after the accident.

Footage of his final run can be found here, on YouTube.

Source: Wikipedia, Donald Campbell CBE, BBC News

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