Hammond 'was not attempting land speed record'

Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond was not trying to break the British land speed record when he crashed at high speed, organisers said today.

Hammond, 36, is in a stable condition in hospital after the dragster he was driving crashed at Elvington airfield, near York yesterday.

Organisers Primetime Land Speed Engineering, which is jointly run by the current British land speed record holder, Colin Fallows, said they were “deeply shocked” by events.

A spokesman said Hammond may have been trying to go faster than Fallows’ 301mph record, but it would not have stood because there were no officials from the Automobile Association present to verify the attempt.

“We are deeply shocked by yesterday’s racing accident and our thoughts are with Richard Hammond and his family,” said spokesman Malcolm Pittwood.

Mr Pittwood said he did not know how fast Mr Hammond was going when he crashed but he was less than half way down the 1.8 mile runway when the accident happened.

He added: “The vehicle, which Richard Hammond was driving all day yesterday, had been prepared and was being operated to the highest of standards.

“Standards which we have maintained for many years in the safe operation of such vehicles.

“We are co-operating and will continue to co-operate fully with the necessary authorities in every way possible.

“But at this moment our thoughts are with Richard Hammond and his family and we are praying for his swiftest recovery.”

Mr Pittwood, who acts as a consultant for high-speed motoring events, said the Top Gear presenter had been driving Mr Fallows’ Vampire dragster – which set a new land speed record of 301mph in July.

He said Hammond had been “euphoric” after several high-speed runs down the runway and after each attempt had been getting faster and faster.

Asked by reporters how the TV star was before the crash, Mr Pittwood replied: “He didn’t say anything direct to me but his demeanour was euphoric.

“He was generally moving up through the speeds, getting faster and faster each time.”

The Vampire dragster lay upright on the airfield’s grass, to the side of the runway.

It was clear that Hammond had suddenly veered sharply to the right and hurtled at high speed across the runway before overturning and coming to rest.

The nose cone of the high-speed car had been completely destroyed in the crash and bits of debris were strewn across the airfield, close to where Hammond came to rest.

Mr Pittwood said the dragster was lying upside down when the emergency services arrived. The car was then turned over to free the TV presenter before he was rushed to hospital in Leeds.

The BBC is to launch an investigation into the incident.

A spokesman said: “The circumstances of this accident will be fully investigated by the BBC, and this process began last night.

“We will, of course, be fully co-operating with any investigation by the police and the Health and Safety Executive.

“Until the BBC’s investigation is complete, it would be inappropriate to comment on the details of what happened.”

The spokesman added: “We are pleased to hear that Richard has improved slightly overnight, but we continue to be concerned about his condition and we are keeping in touch with his family.”

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