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Friday, 25 October, 2002, 17:34 GMT 18:34 UK
Donald Campbell death was accident
Bluebird moments before it somersaulted and sunk at Coniston Water
The Bluebird's final moments were replayed in court
Speed legend Donald Campbell died accidentally as he attempted to beat his own water speed record in the Lake District in 1967, a coroner has ruled.

An inquest in Coniston, Cumbria, heard that one of the reasons for Campbell's Bluebird boat flipping spectacularly in the air was that the water was still ruffled from his first run just moments earlier.

Furness coroner Ian Smith said many theories had been suggested including suicide, which he ruled out.

Surrey-born Campbell was 45 when he attempted to beat his world record of 267mph on Coniston Water, Cumbria on 4 January, 1967.

Donald Campbell in Bluebird
Campbell set seven world waterspeed records

Dramatic television footage has shown his Bluebird K7 jetboat rise 30ft into the air and somersault across the water for almost 100 yards, killing Campbell instantly.

Mr Smith said many theories surrounded the reason why Campbell's boat left the water.

One of the theories was that Bluebird hit a submerged or partially submerged object.

Mr Smith said: "There is not a scrap of evidence to that effect. I am happy to dismiss that theory completely."

Another theory was that Bluebird ran out of fuel, causing the vessel's nose to lift.

Mr Smith said evidence by accident investigator Dr Julian Happian Smith dismissed that theory.

The coroner said that the boat contained a maximum of 48 gallons and although Campbell did not refuel after his first run, there would still have been 17 gallons of fuel on board.

Mr Smith added: "I do not think he ran out of fuel."

The coroner also dismissed the theories that icing on the front of the engine and engine failure caused Bluebird to crash.

Bluebird crashes in January 1967
Campbell was killed trying to beat his own record

Mr Smith said he had to touch on the delicate subject that Campbell committed suicide because of the whispers surrounding the theory.

He said Campbell was a publicist's dream, who was good looking, charming, and would have been able to cash in on his amazing success. And there was no reason for him to kill himself.

He said: "I have no doubt whatsoever, this was not suicide."

Mr Smith, said he hoped that would quash the untrue theory.

The coroner said one of the reasons Bluebird left the water was the safety margin in which the boat operated.

He said its front could only lift 6 degrees above the level of the water if it was travelling in ideal conditions at 300 mph

He said: "If the front moves more than six degrees off that level, then it is likely to become airborne."

Campbell was probably travelling in excess of 320mph, which narrows the margin of safety to below six degrees, he added.

Uneven surface

He said: "The lake was not an absolutely smooth, mirrored surface.

"But any slight ripple, however it was caused, by the wind or any other way, will have some effect on the stability of the boat."

He said the wake from Campbell's first run may also have caused the rippling of the water, adding another factor into the equation and the reason behind Bluebird going airborne.

It was likely Bluebird left the water because it was unbalanced due to factors which included the uneven water surface and the speed at which Campbell was travelling, the coroner said.

Mr Campbell's daughter Gina, 52, averted her gaze as the film of the Bluebird's first run and the second, fatal, return run, was shown on a television in the courtroom.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Kevin Bocquet
"Bluebird... was going faster than it had ever gone before"

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