September 20th 2006 is a notorious date in many a Top Gear fan’s memory, because it’s the day when Richard Hammond was severely injured when he crashed a jet-powered dragster he was piloting, called Vampire.
The Vampire once held the British land speed record at 483.3kph (483mph) and was powered by a single Bristol-Siddeley Orpheus after-burning turbojet engine, producing 10,000hp. Some say the accident occurred during an attempt by Richard to break the British land speed record, but a report following accident found that Top Gear producer Andy Wilman vetoed the idea, due to the risk involved.
The accident happened whilst Richard was completing a 7th and final run to collect extra footage for the segment, when his front-right tyre disintegrated, and according to witness and paramedic Dave Ogden, “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.” The emergency crew quickly arrived at the car, finding it inverted and partially embedded in the grass. During the roll, Richard’s helmet had embedded itself into the ground, flipping the visor up and forcing soil into his mouth and damaging his left eye. Rescuers felt a pulse and heard the unconscious Richard breathing before the car was turned upright. Richard was cut free with hydraulic shears, and placed on a backboard. He was then transported by the Yorkshire Air Ambulance to the neurological unit of the Leeds General Infirmary.
Richard’s family visited him at the hospital along with Jeremy and James. Jeremy wished Richard well, saying “Both James and I are looking forward to getting our ‘Hamster’ back”. Speaking of the accident, Richard said “It was a defining time of my life and the sense of family and belonging together came to the fore. But that solidarity did work the other way too – it was quite difficult, as all my family wanted and needed to be near me. I didn’t know anything about it at the time as I was out of it.”
He suffered a significant brain injury but doctors were optimistic he’d make a recovery and now, 10 years later, Hammond’s been sharing his thanks for all their hard work.
“10 yrs on, happily at home tonight thanks to @YorkshireAirAmb all at Leeds General & BUPA Hospital Clifton, friends & family. #lifesavers”, Hammond wrote on Twitter.
During an interview in February 2008, Richard described the effects of his brain injuries and the progression of his recovery. He reported suffering loss of memory, depression and difficulties with emotional experiences, for which he was consulting a psychiatrist. Returning to Top Gear also gave Richard an unnatural platform from which to observe his own mental state, which he found exhausting. “For a time I lost the ability to connect emotionally. I began picking away at my own personality and that was dizzying. It was a lot to deal with. I had a pretty tricky few years,” Richard said.
He says the accident changed him and is now filed away “under the major events of my life, along with passing 40, getting married, having my daughters.”