Donald Campbell's countdown to catastrophe on Coniston Water

22 December 2016 4:56PM

WEDNESDAY, January 4, marks 50 years since the death of Donald Campbell as he came so close to breaking his own World Water Speed Record of 276.33mph on Coniston Water.

We take a look at some of the potentially life-ending incidents he had survived in the weeks leading up to the accident through the pages of the Evening Mail.

After five weeks of bad weather - including a storm bad enough to rip the gates of Barrow soccer ground - Campbell's Coniston support team finally had reason for optimism on December 10 in 1966.

The jet-powered hydroplane Bluebird K7 did a measured kilometre at 196mph - still 80mph below his record but a good sign.

On the 12th he took the boat up to 180mph but had to abandon a further run due to water swell and poor visibility.

He said: "I took her up to 180 miles an hour but you couldn't see far enough to go faster."

The following day was almost a disaster.

The Evening Mail noted: "When travelling at 250mph in Bluebird on Coniston Water this afternoon, Donald Campbell hit a seagull."

Mr Campbell said: "I thought that it was going to hit the canopy and if it had done so the cockpit would have been full of feathers, blood and split material and it would have been curtains for me."

The next day he was out again and took Bluebird up to 264.4mph.

Trial runs ended as mechanics from Bristol worked on problems with Bluebird's engine and the weather took a turn for the worse.

By the 19th teams were out on the lake to remove driftwood left by gales and on the 21st strong winds led to a dawn record attempt being postponed. The official time-keepers went home for Christmas.

Back in action on the 27th, Campbell ducked below the level of the windscreen as he hit another bird at 200mph.

Mr Campbell said: "I thought one of them was coming through the canopy, so I ducked below the level of the windscreen.

"There was no chance at all to avoid them."

On December 30 Campbell was out with his team placing special rockets which had been sent by a fireworks manufacturer in Huddersfield to help scare off the Coniston Water birds.

The front page of the Evening Mail on Monday, January 2 in 1967 was hopeful of a record attempt that day.

Work had started at dawn to prepare the course and a weather forecast from RAF Bawtry was favourable but by lunchtime conditions were not ideal.

On January 3 it was noted: "There was little immediate hope of Daonald Campbell making a run in the jet Bluebird on Coniston Water today.

"A peristent north-westerly wind ruffled the water and made it impossible to launch Bluebird.

"Campbell is waiting for calmer conditions, which the weathermen say could move in from Ireland in the next day or two.

"A further inspection of the lake will take place later today."

That was the last mention of the record attempt until at 8.55am the following Day Donald Campbell died as Bluebird crashed at 300mph.

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