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Reg Turnill

Veteran BBC space correspondent;

Born: May 12, 1915; Died: February 12, 2013.

Reg Turnill, who has died aged 97, was the distinguished aerospace correspondent for the BBC who brought enthusiasm and unflappability to his reports on the space race and the Apollo moon landings. It was he who broke the story to the world that the Apollo 13 mission in 1970 had run into trouble.

Turnill, who was born in Devon, was a journalist for more than 50 years and was still working on projects in the days before his death. He began his career at the Press Association as a telephonist when he was 15 years old. Quite quickly, he graduated to reporting, interviewing among others HG Wells, and remained with PA until he joined the BBC in 1956 as assistant industrial correspondent.

Within two years, his enthusiasm for space had won him the role of air and space correspondent, a role he would hold until his forced retirement in the 1970s. He reported from Moscow on the first manned space launch in 1961 and in the decade that followed became a regular visitor to Cape Canaveral and Houston to report on the Apollo Moon missions.

His most famous report came on the night of April 14, 1970 during the Apollo 13 mission just as the day was winding down at Houston mission control. Turnill had been worried that after the great excitement of the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969 and its successor Apollo 12, things were going far too smoothly in space and that his bosses were losing interest. "Some of us felt," said Turnill, "that unless we had a big drama it was the last time we'd get to cover it. Little did we know, we would get our big drama."

Turnill was just turning to leave mission control when he heard the words "Houston, we have a problem". It was the astronaut Fred Haise talking and Turnill said he immediately recognised an edge to Haise's voice and knew a big story was breaking. It was Turnill who broke that story – that Apollo 13's oxygen tanks had been damaged and the astronauts were in terrible danger.

Later, looking back on his career, Turnill would say that he had covered "every step in Nasa's progress towards the moon" and his contribution was recognised throughout the world of astronomy. Nick Spall, of the British Interplanetary Society, called Turnill the astronaut who never made it to the Moon.

Much to his annoyance, he was retired by the BBC when he was 65, but he continued to work as a journalist, broadcaster and writer. His books included, in 1994, Celebrating Concorde (another of his great loves) and The Moonlandings: An Eyewitness Account in 2003.

He is survived by his wife Margaret and their two sons.

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