Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Winter Hill Air Disaster

Winter Hill (1496ft) is an extreme outlyer of the Pennines, situated some 20 miles west of the main ridge. Its location and relative height provide extensive views to the west from Cheshire in the south over north Wales and Lancashire to the Cumbrian mountains in the north. Last Saturday, however, was another day when Winter Hill had its very own clouds nestling comfortably around its summit and almost all views to the west were concealed and I was condemned to spend much of the morning running in clag.

Winter Hill’s relative height and location also mean it is a significant hazard to air traffic and over the years it has proved to be a fatal attraction to a number of aircraft both large and small. The best known occurred on 27th February 1958 when a Charter flight from the Isle of Man crashed in poor conditions near the summit.

Freebase summarised the accident as follows:

A Silver City Bristol 170 Freighter (G-AICS), travelling from the Isle of Man to Manchester, crashed into Winter Hill  several hundred yards away from the Independent Television Authority's Winter Hill transmitting station. Thirty-five people died and seven were injured. The weather that night was so severe that none of the engineers working in the ITA transmitting station were aware of the crash. Several feet of snow hampered rescue efforts, and a snow cat vehicle had to be diverted from the A6 to cut a path for emergency vehicles though the track had been cleared by people using spades by the time it arrived. The flight was essentially a charter flight from Ronaldsway Airport in the Isle of Man to Manchester Ringway Airport for a group of mainly Motor Traders to visit the Manchester Exide Battery Factory and Manchester car show.

Winter Hill (1 of 5)

The above plaque is mounted on one the buildings by the ITV transmitter and to mark the 50th anniversary of the crash a second plaque was  mounted on a stone gate post just beyond these buildings.

Winter Hill (2 of 5) 

More details, including contemporary media coverage of both the crash and the memorial service 50 years later, can be found on the BBC Isle of Man website. The contemporary footage is almost as harrowing today as it must have been in 1958. Details of the accident investigation can be found on the Aviation Safety Network website and it is very unsettling to realise how one, or perhaps two, very simple mistakes could have such tragic consequences. Coming just over two weeks after the  Munich Air Disaster which overshadowed it, this crash is perhaps less well remembered than some feel it ought to be.


North East to Darwen Moor North East to Darwen Moor

Beyond the gatepost (above) a large track leads down on the east side of Winter Hill, towards Belmont village, and for the first time on Saturday I saw some sunshine. Darwen Moor is only about 5 or 6 miles away but enjoying the winter sunshine so completely absent on the top of Winter Hill. Although I didn’t see Pauline’s stud marks anywhere this week, she and her fellow runners are somewhere on the above photo making their way to Darwen Tower – a much better destination than the top of Winter Hill.

Winter Hill (5 of 5)

Back on the west side of Winter Hill and well below the summit I dropped out of the clouds for a last look at the moors before dropping down into Horwich. Despite the time of year and the saturated ground the moors still provide a patchwork of colours and textures. The bright green fields in the distance are below the intake wall and probably benefit from improved drainage but it will be interesting to see how the remainder of the landscape changes over the winter until spring when the new growth appears.

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