SURVIVORS of one of the region's worst air disasters returned to the scene of the tragedy on Winter Hill on Tuesday for an emotional reunion on the bleak moorland.

More than 46 years after a plane carrying motor industry workers crashed on Winter Hill, two of the survivors were reunited with workers from the hill's television station who helped to save their lives.

Thirty-five people died in the crash, when the Bristol 170 Freighter hit the fog-shrouded Winter Hill in atrocious weather following a navigational error on the morning of February 27, 1958.

It was carrying members of the motor trade from the Isle of Man, who were on their way to the Exide Battery factory at Clifton Junction.

Pilot Mike Cairns and air stewardess Jennifer Fleet (nee Curtis) were among only seven people to escape the burning wreckage alive, after being helped to safety by television engineers Alan Sucksmith and John Hall, who were working in the Independent Television Authority centre, which houses the landmark mast.

The mast engineers were reunited at the centre by staff from the BBC, who filmed the gathering for a forthcoming documentary on the accident.

Mrs Fleet, aged 68, who now lives in Sale, has vivid memories of the event, which occurred on only her second flight after qualifying.

She said: "I was charting a graph of the plane's weight, when a large bump made me draw an arc across the page. And then there was the impact, and I just remember waking up face down in the snow.

"I could see that other people had died, so I went back to my seat to gather my thoughts. I couldn't believe it. I remember shutting my eyes and hoping it was all a dream.

"Winter Hill will always be a place of great sadness for me, as so many families lost their loved ones."

Mr Sucksmith and Mr Hall were alerted to the smash after the plane's blood-spattered co-pilot Bill Howarth staggered to the station.

Mr Hall, now aged 74, who lives in Loughborough, recalled: "I had been out earlier to check on my car which was caught in a snow drift, and heard a whooshing noise, but assumed it was snow falling from the mast.

"But then 15 minutes later we saw a figure come out of the fog, and it was the co-pilot, who said there had been a crash.

"When we went to the site, the bodies had been thrown clear of the aircraft, and were scattered on the hill.

"It was terrible. A horrific sight which still upsets me today."

The pair discovered pilot Mike Cairns under the smashed fuselage of the plane, with a compound ankle fracture and clutching his other foot, which had been severed. They also found Mrs Fleet in her seat in the gaping rear section of the aircraft and took the pair indoors for first-aid treatment.

Mr Sucksmith, aged 72 who now lives in Cumbria said: "It was so quiet when we got to the site. We were traumatised, but stayed calm, but there was such an overwhelming feeling of helplessness because of the devastation."

Mr Hall was so traumatised by the accident, that he applied for a transfer soon after, and encouraged his children to join the medical profession to enable them to help others.

Mr Cairns does not recall much of the crash, but remembers the run-up to the tragic event, and later holding his severed foot tight against his chest, before being carried into the television station.

He said: "I remember looking out of my window and seeing the planes engines being ripped from the wings, and then nothing at all.

"Then I came to, and told my co-pilot to get help. When I looked across the cabin I was in pain, and I saw my foot caught up on something, and asked someone to pass it back to me."

Mr Cairns, who now lives on the Costa Blanca, Spain, had his ankle bones removed as a result of the crash, and has since been unable to work as a pilot, but did enjoy a successful motor racing career.

Mrs Fleet and Mr Cairns thanked their rescuers for their efforts.

Mr Cairns said: "It's amazing to meet Alan and John again, and we are so grateful for what they did." Mrs Fleet added: "Without them we may not be alive today."

The reunion will be featured in the BBC's Inside Out programme, which will be broadcast on January 10, to coincide with the anniversary of the 1958 tragedy.

Local author Steve Morrin, is currently producing a book about the accident, entitled "When the Devil Casts His Net."