A frigid January morning in Cumberland. Campbell had sat atop and around his jet-propelled vehicle for weeks without moving any distance, The hint of a lack of funds ran around the Bluebird camp with the chance of a quick two hundred quid from the Daily Sketch newspaper might finance a quick dangerous record water attempt. The Wednesday morning of the 4th; saw the likes of myself and every major daily newspaper camped out along the shores of Coniston. My representation for the newly minted “SUN” was a bit hampered by the fact ..I didn’t have a long enough lens . Some one hour before Campbell’s attempt at the World Record a deal was struck between myself and the much experienced Daily Mail photographer Peter Howard (Peter had walked away as a survivor of the of the Munich air crash which in 1958 had taken the lives of twenty three great athletes, journalists and personel!) it was agreed by borrowing the Daily Mail’s spare 400mm Novoflex and if I “got lucky” then my images would be distributed among all the competing newspapers. A small promontory off the lake and facing the town of Coniston found us waiting for the much anticipated event. I clung tightly to the Mail’s 400mm Novoflex attached to a hand driven Pentax 35mm body (physically moving the wind-on lever to the next exposure on the film).

Campbell came down the lake from right to left. While impressive it clearly hadn’t broken any records. Anyone present would testify (and I think some did) that a huge ‘wash’ was apparent from the boats initial run.

Apparently, a million demons, not the least of which was the fact that he was running out of money must have compelled Campbell to immediately turn the boat around and throttle the vehicle to full power in the opposite direction. The fact that the wash was still bouncing around the lake must have completely skipped his plans.

Hearing the whine of the jet engine as the vehicle came toward me was a help to know on what track and where to focus. Seeing the boat coming closer I kept the focus on one near spot ( I would guess somewhere around four hundred yards away). As Campbell hit my point of focus Bluebird lurched upward, the way a jet would at take-off. I clicked one frame and instinctively panned right and clicked again. The third frame was of the aftermath of the crash. Actually, I don’t remember any loud explosions. In fact after the vehicle hit the lake the only sound was the “popping”of small plastic bags coming to the surface. They had been installed within the boat to protect the wiring.

After half an hour or so fellow photographers gathered and tried to assess who had what. I didn’t know of my outcome so therefore I set off back to Manchester. As I approached Manchester I stopped at a public phone box and phoned The Sun’s Northern office to speak to picture editor Ron Graham. Before I could tell my story Ron passed on the sobering news that the Editor Arthur Brown had told him, “should Brennan not have the pictures of Campbell dying in Bluebird then let him know to not bother returning to the office……he’s fired.”

In the darkroom Pete Redfern warmed up the D76 developer and put the two rolls in the tank. He emerged with the sequence of Donald’s Campbell’s death.

 

Lake Coniston, Cumberland, UK. January 4th; 1967. Donald Campbell dies in the jet-boat Bluebird as he crashes into Lake Coniston.
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