Updated: Thursday September 21, 2006
300mph record broken, then Hammond crashes
Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond was in a critical condition last night after a high-speed crash while filming for the BBC motoring show.
It is understood that Hammond, 36, had just broken the British land speed record of 300.3mph and was in the process of slowing down the jet-powered Vampire vehicle, with the aid of a parachute, when it overturned. He had to be cut from the wreckage. He was airlifted from the disused Elvington airfield in North Yorkshire to Leeds General Infirmary, which has a specialist neurological unit.
Dave Ogden, a firemen involved in the rescue, said that the presenter had been wearing a helmet and fireproof racing suit. He said that Hammond was “able to talk to us for a small period” while being cut from the car, despite being in “quite a lot of distress”.
Michael Harvey, editor of Top Gear magazine, told BBC News 24: “This wasn’t a high-performance car, this wasn’t a road car, this was a rocket-powered dragster which bears absolutely no relation to the kind of cars which are the main fodder of the Top Gear programme — this was a car that clearly contained its own risks.”
The Vampire is the same car in which the British record of 300.3mph was set at Elvington, by Colin Fallows, 54, from Northampton, in 2000. Mr Fallows failed to beat his own record in July.
The BBC confirmed that the accident had taken place during filming for Top Gear, but a spokesman said that he had little further information about the circumstances of the crash. “Our attention is on Richard at this stage,” he added.
Hammond has presented the BBC motoring show, alongside Jeremy Clarkson and James May, since 2002. He is known to his co-presenters as “Hamster”, owing to his diminutive height of 5ft 7in.
Last night Jeremy Clarkson said he was waiting for news about his colleague’s condition: “My fingers are crossed and I’m hoping to get up there. We are all massively concerned.”
Mr May was said by his agent to be absolutely devastated by news of the crash.
In an interview earlier this year, Hammond said: “I think I wanted to be on Top Gear from a fairly young age because I loved cars and I wanted to do something on telly because I loved TV. I know that I’m ridiculously lucky.”
The 'Vampire' jet car at 300 mph
He presented the Sky One show Brainiac until earlier this month, and has also presented Time Commanders and Petrolheads. He lives near Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, with his wife Amanda, 35, and their two young daughters, Isabella, 5, and Willow, 2.
Richard Noble, who led the team which broke the sound barrier in the Nevada desert in 1997, and still holds the world land-speed record, explained the dangers involved in jet-car driving. “I don’t know what happened but one thing I can say is that it’s nothing like driving an everyday car or even a high performance one,” he said.
“You can never have enough experience because the speed-to-weight ratios are so different. It’s almost as if your instincts and mind are too slow for the speed you’re going. There’s a much greater power-to-weight ratio, so drivers have to keep everything co-ordinated, which is not easy.”
Noble led the ThrustSSC Project. Driver Andy Green reached 763 mph, beating Noble’s record of 633mph.
Richard Hammond - a very brave man
Top Gear Man In Crash
Richard Hammond, one of the presenters of TV's Top Gear, is in critical condition following a car crash. Mr Hammond was hurt while filming an edition of the show near Leeds. He was reportedly trying to set a new land speed record for Britain in a jet-powered Vampire car when it overturned.
Mr Hammond was said to have been reaching speeds of up to 280mph as the accident happened. He was taken to Leeds General Infirmary.
Firefighter Dave Ogden, who witnessed the crash, said that the 36-year-old presenter was able to speak as he was taken out of the wreckage of the car.
Inspector Mike Thompson, of North Yorkshire Police, said officers were dealing with the incident at Elvington airfield, southeast of York, where the filming was taking place.
He said: "At 5.45pm this evening we received a report via the fire service of a male person trapped in what was described as an overturned jet car which had been driven on the airfield. "The male occupant has received serious injuries and has been airlifted to hospital at Leeds."
James May, who co-presents the popular motor show with Hammond and Jeremy Clarkson, said he was devastated to learn his "old mate" had been injured. His agent, Annie Sweetbaum, said: "James is absolutely devastated, he's heard the news but doesn't know how bad he is. "He's really shocked, his words to me tonight were 'he's such a good mate, I'm so upset' "He said as soon as he's allowed, he wants to go and see Richard."
A spokeswoman for the BBC, which produces Top Gear, said: "The incident happened quite recently and the focus of our attention is on Richard at this stage."
Mr Hammond, who lives near Cheltenham with his wife Amanda and their two daughters, has also presented Sky's Brainiac and shows including Time Commanders and Petrolheads.
Richard Hammond - cool dude
EYE WITNESS ACCOUNT
The 36-year-old presenter was taken by air ambulance to a hospital in Leeds which has a special neurological unit.
He had been filming at a former Royal Air Force base when the accident happened.
A spokesman for the hospital said Mr Hammond was "stable".
Former firefighter Dave Ogden was one of the first people at the scene of the crash.
He said: "We were down there with Top Gear who were filming him trying to break the British land speed record.
"They had just done one more run and were planning to finish when it veered off to the right.
"One of the parachutes had deployed but it went on to the grass and spun over and over before coming to a rest about 100 yards from us."
He said his crew and an ambulance that was already on the airfield rushed over and found the car upside down and "dug in" to the grass.
Mr Ogden he regained consciousness soon after and said he had some lower back pain.
Former Top Gear presenter Quentin Willson said the presenter was "irreplaceable".
Hammond was born in Birmingham and lives near Cheltenham with his wife and children.
In addition to presenting Top Gear for the BBC, he also fronted Brainiac on Sky One until recently.
Richard Hammond was said to be fighting for his life after sustaining serious head injuries in a 280mph jet car crash at Elvington Airfield yesterday.
Medics said the television presenter was in a stable condition after being airlifted to hospital following the smash while filming yesterday evening for the hit BBC1 show.
Mr Hammond had been driving the jet car, Vampire, which currently holds the British land speed record, for an upcoming edition of the motoring programme.
The former Radio York presenter - who lived in Ripon in the late-1980s - had been attempting to break the record when the car came off the runway, rolling several times before coming to rest upside down.
Dave Ogden, who runs Event Fire Services, a company providing private fire protection, was working at the site when the 36-year-old father-of-two lost control of the high-speed vehicle.
He said: "I've never seen anything like it before. It was scary stuff. "We were about one and a half miles down at the other end of the runway from where he set off.
"Richard was about 500 yards from where we were, and about half a mile from the end of the runway.
"We had some cones laid out where he switched off the fuel and deployed the parachute to slow the car down. "He got through the cones, and that was when I noticed a massive plume of smoke. The car went off the track, rolled, and came to rest upside down."
Mr Ogden said Mr Hammond was attempting to break the British land speed record when the incident happened.
He said the former Brainiac presenter had reached about 280mph before losing control of the car. He added that Mr Hammond had hit 300mph on his previous run.
Former RAF propulsion technician Colin Fallows, who helped build the Vampire jet car and piloted it to the current British record speed of 300.3mph, was also at the airfield, instructing Mr Hammond how to control the machine.
Nigel Metcalfe, of the Yorkshire Ambulance Service, said: "Following a high-speed crash at Elvington Airfield, a male patient was flown by the Yorkshire Air Ambulance to Leeds General Infirmary.
"He was unconscious when the crew arrived, but he appeared to be regaining consciousness by the time they were getting near Leeds General Infirmary. "That is the specialist neurological centre for this part of the world. "The flying time was less than 15 minutes and the helicopter flies at around 140mph to 150mph."
A North Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service spokesman said an investigation would be carried out into the cause of the collision. He said two appliances were sent out to the airfield after receiving reports that a man was trapped in a jet-engined car. He added that the man received treatment from paramedics at the scene.
Sgt Jim Turney, of York Police, confirmed that police had been called to an accident involving a high-powered car which had turned over. He said officers were investigating at the site.
A BBC spokeswoman said: "We can confirm that an accident has happened while filming an edition of Top Gear on an airfield near York. "The presenter Richard Hammond has been taken to hospital. We will make further details known as soon as they are available."
Former Top Gear presenter Quentin Wilson said: "Let's all hope against hope that Richard is going to be all right. I think it is quite a bad accident by all accounts. He's brought a lot to Top Gear. He has absolutely no fear. I hope he is going to be well."
Rescuer's high-speed smash shock
DAVE OGDEN, of Event Fire Services, was one of the first on the scene after the crash, and helped free Richard Hammond from the wreckage. He said Mr Hammond had been trained by land speed record-setter Colin Fallows to drive the Vampire jet car, which is propelled by a jet engine. "It was just doing the final run of the day and it got up to about 280mph. I don't know quite what happened. The car veered off to the right onto the grass and overturned several times.
"It came to a halt a couple of hundred yards in front of us. The car was upside down. The roll cage had dug into the ground and Richard was upside down with his head into the soil. "We cleared the soil immediately from round his helmet and opened his visor. He was still breathing well at that point.
"The paramedic and ambulance came across. We managed, with the help of the film crew, to right the car." Mr Ogden said Mr Hammond was helped out of the car, with a neck brace, and was put into an ambulance. "He regained a small level of consciousness when we were extricating him from the vehicle," Mr Ogden said.
"He did indicate some areas of pain, which is a good sign. He was able to talk to us for a small period. He was obviously in quite a lot of distress and we got him off in the air ambulance." Mr Ogden said the construction of the Vampire car was similar to that of a Formula One vehicle but was "quite a lot longer".
Mark Newby in 'Split Second' - 272.9 mph
How North Yorks pupil became a household name
RICHARD Hammond has become one of Britain's best known TV presenters thanks to his work on BBC's Top Gear and Sky One's Brainiac.
Born on December 19, 1969, Richard is originally from Birmingham, in the West Midlands, but in the mid-1980s he moved with his family, mother Eileen, dad Alan, and his two brothers Andrew and Nicholas, to Ripon.
His father ran a probate business in the city's Market Square and Richard was a pupil at Ripon Grammar School.
From 1987 to 1989, he attended Harrogate College of Art and Technology where he was a friend of the author Jonathan Baldwin.
Richard gained a degree in photography and television production.
He is said to have started his broadcasting career at Radio York before working at Radio Cumbria and Radio Leeds, before leaving to pursue a more motoring-based career.
He first hit the television screens in a number of daytime shows and on digital motoring channel Men & Motors.
He presented the Crufts dog show in 2005 and has also fronted the British Parking Awards in 2004 and 2005. He has co-presented motoring TV show Top Gear along with James May and Jeremy Clarkson since 2002. He also writes a weekly column for the Daily Mirror.
Richard lives near Cheltenham with his wife Amanda, whom he married four years ago.
He has two young daughters, Isabella and Willow. A car enthusiast, Richard is known to be particularly fond of Porsches, and particularly the Porsche 911.
He also owns a 1957 Land Rover, a 1969 Dodge Charger and a Porsche 928 as well as two motorbikes - a Suzuki GSX-R 1000 and a BMW R1150 GS. The 36-year-old has presented shows on subjects as diverse as the search for the Holy Grail, the Gunpowder Plot and the 5 O'Clock show on ITV.
He has also been a team captain on the BBC Two quiz show Petrolheads. Due to his short stature - Richard stands at 5ft 7ins - he was given the affectionate nickname of "hamster" by fans and presenters of Top Gear. He has said of Top Gear: "It's the show you aspire to present".
THE BRITISH JET RECORD
In the summer of 1998, Richard Noble's long standing Outright UK Record was eclipsed by Colin Fallows in Prime Time's "Vampire" jet dragster at 269mph in a widely publicised event held at Elvington in Yorkshire.
Prime Time then built another jet dragster called "Split second" and pitted it against "Vampire" in a head to head combat between Colin Fallows and Mark Newby in an attempt to improve on 269mph. Thus is November 1999 the two jet cars turned up at Elvington, but the event was washed out by the frozen conditions and fog.
The two jet cars again met at Elvington on July 5th 2000. Mark Newby was first to run in Spilt Second setting a new record at 272.9 mph, although complaining of problems with his car. Next up was Colin Fallows in his "Vampire", when he raised the record to 300.3 mph, the average of two runs in opposite directions within the hour. This is the record Richard Hammond was seeking to better. All of us here at Bluebird Electric offer our very best wishes for a speedy recovery. Get well soon Richard. NK
The Vampire at Bruntingthorpe in 2006
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Richard Hammond - get well soon
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