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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 January 2007, 03:57 GMT
The battle to bring back Bluebird
By James Lynn
BBC News, Newcastle

Bluebird
Bluebird disintegrated after crashing at over 300mph
When diver Bill Smith snagged his foot on something at the bottom of Coniston Water, his blood ran cold.

Swinging his torch through the water he saw a crumpled piece of blue aluminium.

Immediately he knew it was Bluebird, the jet-powered boat which had crashed almost 35 years earlier, killing its daredevil pilot Donald Campbell.

The 2001 discovery was monumental, but only the start of a long battle to restore Bluebird and create a permanent legacy for Campbell.

We thought every museum in the world would want Bluebird, but when we rang around they all turned us down
Bill Smith

Thursday marks the 40th anniversary of the infamous crash, but Bluebird's wreckage remains in Mr Smith's workshop in North Tyneside.

Until recently, no-one seemed interested in displaying arguably one of the world's most famous boats.

Mr Smith said: "We thought every museum in the world would want Bluebird, but when we rang around they all turned us down.

"The reason is, it's a very strange and unique object. It's not a boat or a plane or a car and there's no museum for Bluebirds."

Bluebird salvaged
The wreck was salvaged from Coniston Water in March 2001

And so, in 2001, a plan was hatched to return the legendary boat to the Lake District.

The idea was suggested by Donald Campbell's daughter, Gina, who admitted feeling some guilt when Bluebird was removed from Coniston.

She said: "As soon as Bill brought it up I promised the people of Coniston that Bluebird would be returned to the village.

"While it was down there, it had gained a mystique and I didn't want to take that away from them."

Mr Smith and a team of volunteers agreed to restore Bluebird. Once complete, the boat would be donated to Coniston's Ruskin Museum.

Bids rejected

It seemed like a straightforward proposal, but a few years later, things were not going to plan.

In September 2003, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) turned down a funding application. Three years later a second bid was also rejected.

The HLF was opposed to the team's plan to completely restore Bluebird, which would include replacing several parts of the boat.

Without the money, the Ruskin Museum could not afford to build an extension in which to display the boat.

Section of Bluebird 's shell
Much of Bluebird's shell remains in relatively good condition

Mrs Campbell was furious. She threatened to sell the wreck on auction site eBay or dump it back into Coniston.

At the time, she said: "It will not go on public display as it is. I will not allow it. I want her to look shiny, bright, engineering perfect."

Fortunately, in December, a solution was found, albeit without the involvement of the HLF.

Mr Campbell signed the wreck over to the Ruskin Museum, and a public appeal was launched to raise the 750,000 needed to build the extension.

Mr Smith and his team are now working hard to restore Bluebird to pristine condition, in time for a spectacular return to Cumbria.

Mrs Campbell said: "When she's ready we'll put it on the lake, fire her up and they'll hear her in Barrow-in-Furness as it echoes through the hills.

"It will be a wonderful sound, and I think it will warm the hearts of anyone living in Coniston.

"I just hope my old man's looking down and saying 'Well done. Job done'."




SEE ALSO
Bluebird to be 'fully restored'
07 Dec 06 |  Cumbria
New setback for Bluebird project
14 Sep 06 |  Cumbria
Historic Bluebird in eBay threat
31 Oct 05 |  Cumbria
Setback for Bluebird restoration
18 Mar 05 |  Cumbria

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