Speed ace died as his windscreen decapitated him

THE final chapter in the life and death of Donald Campbell was written yesterday to reveal that the legendary speed ace was decapitated by Bluebird’s windscreen exploding at 300mph.

Campbell’s craft crashed on Coniston Water in 1967 as he attempted to better his own world record of 297mph.

Ironically, he succeeded, but only for the seconds before his apparent impatience to become the fastest man alive caused him to make a fatal error, an inquest into his death heard.

The inquest was set up following the recovery last year of Bluebird and Campbell’s remains from the Cumbrian lake.

It was held in a school classroom within sight of where Campbell died.

Details of Campbell’s "second" and fatal race for the record were described to the coroner, Ian Smith.

He heard that Campbell planned to make two attempts on the record hoping to achieve a speed of 328 mph on at least one of the "runs".

The first run on the "mirror-like" surface went well.

But Campbell, a hero to Fifties schoolboys, who had eclipsed his father’s record-breaking exploits on land and water, turned too quickly into the second and encountered his own wake.

The disturbance caused the nose of Bluebird to rise.

The boat’s plastic windshield shattered and severed Campbell’s head, the coroner was told.

Mr Smith heard the most likely cause of the crash was a sudden "throttling back" at a critical time.

Dr Julian Happian-Smith, an engineering consultant, said Bluebird’s safety margin - which allowed its nose to rise only six degrees from the water - had been "severely compromised".

As it entered the second run the craft was "tramping" - rising and falling in the water.

Dr Happian-Smith said: "The likely cause was the backing off of the throttle at a critical time when the craft was on the verge of instability."

Campbell, 45, had applied the brake "but it was too late".

The expert added that the effect on Campbell of the sudden deceleration at the time of impact created a massive G-force, which resulted in his helmet being torn off.

He said "it was clear" that Campbell’s head had been severed by plastic knocked out of the cockpit windshield.

The coroner ruled the tragedy was an accident after hearing that conditions on the day were perfect for the attempt.

Tragically, Bluebird "disappeared in a huge cloud of spray" watched by Campbell’s widow, Tonia Bern-Campbell.

Mrs Bern-Campbell had to wait 34 years before she saw Bluebird raised from the water and, two months later, the remains of her husband.

Campbell’s remains were identified by cross-checking DNA with his daughter, Gina, 52. She had to avert her eyes yesterday when footage of the crash was shown to the inquest.

The family were against the plan to raise Bluebird by Bill Smith, a salvage expert, who had located craft for a television documentary.

But they eventually agreed because they feared it would become a target for souvenir hunters.

Among the items recovered was a St Christopher medal belonging to Campbell, which was engraved with: "To Donald from Daddy, November 1940".

Campbell had been inspired by Sir Malcolm Campbell, who had set land and water speed records, which would be bettered by his son.

The speed ace was inordinately proud of his achievements.

He always carried a cigarette lighter which bore the image of Bluebird and was inscribed with the details of his world speed records.