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Campbell’s Tragic Bluebird K7 has returned to Coniston


After ten years of acrimony, the record-breaking Bluebird K7 jet hydroplane in which Donald Campbell CBE lost his life returned to the Ruskin Museum in Coniston, UK, on March 9, 2024.

Campbell was killed in January 1967 on Coniston Water in the Lake District, when he lost control of K7 at over 300mph. More than three decades later, the boat and Campbell’s body were discovered by diver Bill Smith. The wreckage was then gifted to the Ruskin Museum by the Campbell Family Trust. 

Smith then offered to restore K7 at no cost, and return it to the Ruskin Museum on completion. Smith’s offer was accepted, and The Bluebird Project Ltd. was formed in 2012 to help fund the restoration, while the Ruskin raised money to build a permanent home for the restored hydroplane. 

Plans are in place to run K7 on Coniston Water once more

Plans are in place to run K7 on Coniston Water once more

Then, in 2013, The Bluebird Project argued that because of the time, money and labour it had put into the project, it owned the parts fabricated for the build, and therefore owned a stake in the completed K7. Conversely, the Ruskin argued that the funds raised and the work completed were done with the understanding that the finished boat would be returned with no ownership claim.

In 2018, The Bluebird Project reached a significant milestone after successfully testing the restored boat on Loch Fad in Scotland. However, the costly ownership dispute continued. Six years later, in February 2024, the two parties seemed to have finally reached an agreement, following the announcement that K7 would return to Coniston after all.

This came to fruition on March 9, 2024, when a team from the Ruskin travelled to Bill Smith’s premises in Hudson Street, North Shields, to inspect the boat and bring it back to Coniston on a flatbed lorry. The boat was greeted by throngs of jubilant spectators when it finally arrived back in the Lake District.

Crowds greet Bluebird as as it makes its way along Yewdale Road, Coniston, to the Ruskin Museum

With the boat now in its purpose-built wing of the Ruskin, Jeff Carroll, the vice chairman of the museum’s trustees, confirmed that plans are in place to run K7 on Coniston Water once more, but conceded that there is still “lots of work to do”.

Donald Campbell’s daughter, Gina, was thrilled about K7’s return, saying: “At last, I shall be able to fulfil my promise made to Coniston way back in 2001 that Bluebird would return to the village and people that my father held so dear.”

An in-depth profile of Donald Campbell CBE was included in issue 11 of Magneto, available here.

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