Donald Campbell's Bluebird returns to Coniston decades after fatal crash

Bluebird was loaded onto a flatbed lorry as a team prepared to move it to Coniston. Credit: PA

The world-famous Bluebird K7 has returned to Coniston in the Lake District - decades after the fatal crash which killed pilot Donald Campbell.

After a lengthy and bitter legal battle, the hydroplane has left a North Shields workshop and will go on display at Coniston's Ruskin Museum.

What happened to Bluebird?

On 4 January 1967, British speed record breaker Donald Campbell was preparing to smash his mark of 267mph on water.

He was aiming to push his record to over 300mph, which proved fatal.

Mr Campbell was killed when Bluebird somersalted on Coniston Water during the attempt.

The badly-damaged wreckage was lifted from Coniston Water in 2001. Credit: PA

The craft was reduced to a wreckage at the bottom of the lake, and North Tyneside engineer Bill Smith became fascinated with finding it, and restoring it.

Mr Smith's dive team recovered the wreckage on 8 March 2001, with Mr Campbell's body recovered on 28 May.

They had been diving for four years before they finally found the wreckage, and insisted on restoring it as close to the original plan as possible.

Work on the craft ensued by Mr Smith and volunteers from Newcastle, and in 2018, Bluebird ran again on the Isle of Bute.

On Saturday 9 March 2024, Bluebird moved from Bill Smith's workshop in North Shields to the Ruskin Museum.

It was transported on a flatbed lorry to Cumbria, after years of negotiations.

Mr Smith said there is "not a chance" that Bluebird would be back on the water in the near future after the move, and expressed disappointment that it will remain in the museum all year round, rather than being used on the water in certain months.

Bluebird restorer and engineer Bill Smith spoke to ITV Tyne Tees and Border about the removal of the craft from his workshop.

Villagers lined the streets of Coniston as they watched the boat return - including Mr Campbell's daughter, Gina.

Ms Campbell returned to Coniston Water in 2021 to lay flowers at the lake, on what would have been her father's 100th birthday.

At the time she told ITV Border: "I just think my father left his mark on everybody here in this village. You talk about Donald Campbell, and Bluebird and Coniston - the three are intrinsically linked.

"My father lays in the graveyard here, his greatest achievements are here on this fabulous piece of water, and here we are, 100 years on since the day he was born, celebrating his birth.

"I think we should not look back on at his death, but on his achievements and look at the mark he left for all of us to enjoy."

A team from Ruskin Museum accompanied the craft on its journey.

The vice chairman of the museum, Jeff Carroll, said: "It will be an emotional moment for all concerned. We are hoping that the removal from Mr Smith’s workshop which has been Bluebird’s home for the last 23 years, will be accomplished easily and quickly, but the boat must be checked.

"We have to ensure that this priceless piece of Britain’s Heritage is properly stowed for its journey to Coniston.

"We thank Bill and The Bluebird Project volunteers for the restoration work that they have done and for passing it to the Ruskin Museum, where it will be displayed for all to see and where it will start the next stage of its journey."

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