British Pathé captured many extraordinary events on film over its 80 year history but sometimes the cameras were switched on when tragedy struck.
Death Jump – Eiffel Tower
In February 1912, the inventor Franz Reichelt had gained permission to test his self designed parachute from the Eiffel Tower. The press and Pathé cameras were all invited to witness his jump. The first time Reichelt went up the tower, he actually turned back after getting scared. However, after some persuasion from his manager, he climbed the tower again. The film shows Reichelt teetering on the edge and after hesitating for awhile, he jumps off but plummets straight down to his death.
The 1913 Derby
Prior to the First World War, women’s rights were a regular item of Pathé newsreels. At the 1913 Derby the Pathe cameras captured the extreme sacrifice of suffragette Emily Davison throwing herself under the King’s horse. The film shows crowds of people running on to the track to try and help both the fallen rider and Davison. Davison died several days later in hospital.
Frank Lockhart – 1928
The legendary American motor racing driver’s fatal bid for the new land speed record in 1928 was captured by Pathé cameras. As his car speeds along Daytona beach, Florida, it suddenly veers out of control and turns violently over several times, throwing Lockhart out of the car and through the air. Lockhart was killed immediately.
The Hindenburg Disaster – 1937
The film shows the German passenger airship, The Hindenburg, approaching the landing ground at Lakehurst, New Jersey; firstly the aircraft drops water ballast followed by the landing lines. Pathé cameraman William Deeke was on the ground and had his camera focused on the airship when the blast went off, however due to the force of the explosion, his camera actually malfunctioned for a few seconds and so the footage re-commences when the tail of the zeppelin was well alight and on the ground. 35 out of the 97 people on board died. One died on the ground.
HMS Barham – 1941
At 4.25pm in the Mediterranean on November 25, 1941, a salvo of torpedoes from a German submarine struck from close range on HMS Barham. Within four minutes, the battleship had listed over to Port and the ships magazines had exploded, sinking the battleship and killing 863 men. The terrifying explosion was caught on film by cameraman John Turner who was on an adjacent ship.
The Farnborough Tragedy
On the 6th day of the 1952 Farnborough Air Show, pilot John Derry, broke his DH.110 through the sound barrier and flew low over the airfield in front of 120,000 spectators. However, a fault developed in the aircraft and to the horror of the crowd the plane disintegrated in front of them. Debris, including the jet engines, was catapulted towards picnicking families. The pilot, flight observer and 29 spectators were killed.
Naval Pilot Killed
Commander J D Russell comes in to land his fighter bomber on HMS Victorious but his arresting gear failed and the plane continues past the Pathé camera and along the deck and rolls in to the sea. Russell struggled to open the cockpit and the helicopter winch man also is unable to help. Within two minutes the aircraft sinks to the bottom of the sea taking the pilot with it.
Donald Campbell killed
On January 4th 1967, Donald Campbell was killed on Lake Coniston, Lake District whilst he was making an attempt to break the world water speed record in his Bluebird K7. The film plays the muffled last words of Donald Campbell.
The 1955 Le Mans Tragedy
The 1955 Le Mans tragedy is the most catastrophic accident in motor racing history. Pierre Levegh’s Mercedes crashed and blew up at 125mph, killing Levegh and sending debris flying in to the crowd. 83 spectators were killed. 120 people were injured.
Bird Man’s Death Jump
SEPTEMBER 3, 1963: French daredevil Gerard Masselin plunged to his death on this day in 1963 – after his parachute failed to open properly when he leaped off a plane above Paris.
British Pathé footage captured him spinning to earth – almost certainly knowing his fate – after jumping from a biplane over the French capital.
Masselin, 27, whose brother Guy lost his life in a similar accident two years before, was later filmed lying on the ground as bystanders tried to resuscitate him.
One man even gave him the kiss of life, but it was all in vain – despite the Frenchman’s face showing little sign of the fatal internal injuries he had suffered.