It was on Thursday, February 27, 1958, when one of the worst air disasters in the region’s history happened.

Many lost loved ones when a Bristol 170 Wayfarer, which was ferrying passengers on a visit to Manchester from the Isle of Man, careered into Winter Hill in atrocious weather conditions.

The Bolton News: Scene of a plane that crashed on Winter Hill in March 1958, killing four people. The plane was travelling from Douglas on the Isle of Man to Manchester when it encountered difficult weather conditions on its approach. Photo byBolton Evening News, March

The tragedy claimed the lives of 35 representatives from the Manx motor trade, mechanics, engineers and motor traders, who were on their way to visit the Exide Battery factory in Greater Manchester. Members of the Island’s motor trade had set off from Ronaldsway on a charter flight to Manchester Ringway due to arrive at 10am

Only seven people survived the crash including the three crew members. The pilot was Captain Michael Cairns, the first officer was William Howarth with Jennifer Curtis as stewardess.

Many people in Horwich still remember 9.45am on that terrible snowy and foggy day when the aircraft struck the side of Winter Hill.

The badly cut first officer was able to free himself and crawl through thick mist and deep snow to the recently- opened television station to raise the alarm.

What happened next has become part of our local history.

One of those involved in the rescue was John Sanderson, licensee of the Jolly Crofters and a member of Horwich Rotary Club. With Jack Speight, sub-postmaster, and John Shawcross, he drove up George’s Lane to join a party of workers from the local quarry to dig through the snowdrifts to enable rescue vehicles to get to the site.

When they reached the wreckage, it was a scene of devastation and there was little that could be done for many of the passengers.

Those still alive were given morphine injections and carried down the hillside on stretchers to waiting ambulances to be taken to the Bolton Royal Infirmary. The Victoria Methodist Chapel on Victoria Road (now replaced with houses) became a temporary mortuary.

Captain Cairns and First Officer Howarth both survived, as did Stewardess Curtis who was found still strapped into her seat.

The Bolton News: Investigators at the scene at Winter Hill

Fortunately, something good did come out of the disaster, and that was the lasting ties between the Rotary Club of Horwich and the Rotary Club of Douglas which has resulted in annual services of commemoration for the lives lost in both Horwich and Douglas churches and annual visits to Horwich by members of the Isle of Man Rotary Club.

Howard Callow, an active Isle of Man Rotarian, visited Horwich on the 50th and 60th anniversaries in 2008 and 2018 and has vivid memories of the crash.

He recalls: “I was only four when I lost my father and the February 27, 1958, will forever be important to so many in the Isle of Man.

“We are pleased to visit Horwich every year to share in the commemorations with our long-time friends from Horwich Rotary and Horwich Heritage.”

This year, the Rotary Clubs of Horwich and Douglas, Isle of Man and the people of Horwich and the Isle of Man will come together to remember the tragic Winter Hill Air Crash which happened 66 years ago.

This year Horwich Heritage will be staging a three-week exhibition at its Heritage Centre on Longworth Road, Horwich from Saturday until Thursday, February 15. The exhibition will include a showing of the film made by Horwich Heritage of the disaster to mark the 50th Anniversary in 2008.

This will be followed by a vigil at the crash site (next to the Winter Hill TV station) on Tuesday, February 27 which it is hoped as many people as possible will attend.