A NEW book focusing on the moments leading up to the death of British speed king Donald Campbell has scotched urban myths he knew he was going to die.
The book, Donald Campbell, Bluebird And The Final Record Attempt, concludes that the more likely scenario is a gap in the full understanding of how Bluebird K7 would react with Coniston Water after reaching speeds of more that 300mph.
Author Neil Sheppard, 46, has spent years researching the ten-chapter, 256-page book – accessing extensive documentation, key players on the day, and more than 300 photos, including some never-before-published images.
He also interviewed aeronautical and engineering professors, the Ambleside-based photographer Paul Allonby, who covered the event, and Anthony Robinson, of Coniston Lodge, who was an assistant on the day and the closest eyewitness to the fatality on January 4, 1967.
Mr Sheppard describes Campbell and his team as being at the cutting edge of their times.
“What strikes me is how brave he was and how totally in control of everything Campbell was,” he said.
“None of them were negligent, they were at the cutting edge. He was an incredibly brave individual doing what he was doing not for himself but for Great Britain and keeping Great Britain ahead in engineering.”
But Mr Sheppard, working with Dr Keith Mitchell, a retired physicist who wrote the final chapter, have found that advances during the intervening 45 years and a fresh look at post-accident analysis with an original member of Campbell’s team, have shed more light on what went wrong.
“We have eliminated the superstition and some of the more sensationalist theories which have grown up over the years or that he had known he was about to die. It was rubbish, it happened due to engineering.”
The conclusion addresses the highly-technical “behaviour of Bluebird”, and the impact of it with the lake surface at the speeds Campbell achieved.
“He knew that Bluebird K7 could take off but he did not get in thinking: ‘That’s it’,” he said.
“He got in thinking this will be over in 15 to 20 minutes and I will have reached a speed of over 300mph.”
Mr Sheppard suggests Campbell was keen to break the water speed record to regain his place in the spotlight as it would mean worldwide exposure to strenghten his hand in attracting sponsors to his £250,000 rocket car idea – as he dreamed of beating the pace-setting Americans by going faster than the speed of sound, topping 700mph.
Mr Sheppard, originally from Penrith, but now living in Chiswick, London, was gripped by the story of Campbell as an eight-year-old boy when his parents spoke of Campbell’s record-breaking run on Ullswater in 1955, as they drove alongside the lake during a family day out.
His interest returned in 2001 following the recovery of the remains of Bluebird, and Campbell’s body from Coniston.