The 66th anniversary of the Winter Hill air disaster was marked this week with a remembrance service in St John’s.

The disaster, which occurred on February 27, 1958, saw 35 Manx residents lose their lives on the slopes of Winter Hill near Horwich in Lancashire.

Of the 42 people who took off from Ronaldsway Airport that morning, only seven were to survive the crash less than an hour later.

The plane was carrying a group of local motor traders and associated colleagues to visit the Exide battery factory in Manchester on what was planned to be a day trip to the UK.

The Bristol Aircraft Type 170, owned by Silver City Airways and operated by Manx Airlines, was being used as a charter flight.

It was piloted by Captain Edward Cairnes and First Officer William Howarth, departing Ronaldsway at 9.15am with the flight to Manchester due to take roughly 38 minutes.

Of those killed, 23 were from the motor trade, while Manx police sergeant Jack Cretney was among the others who lost their lives.

The official inquiry into the crash concluded it was caused by ’the error of Mr Howarth in tuning the radio compass on Oldham Beacon instead of Wigan Beacon’.

It added that Captain Cairnes failed to check that the radio compass was tuned to the correct beacon before takeoff.

To this day, the crash remains the UK’s worst high ground aviation accident and occurred only days after the Munich air crash involving Manchester United Football Club.

The service of remembrance, which was attended by around 50 people, took place at Cooil y Ree Park in St John’s on Tuesday.

The service began with introductory music played by Jane Falconer and Alistair Lothian from the Ellan Vannin Pipe Band.

An introduction speech by David North was followed by the reading of the 35 names of those who died in the crash.

Wreaths were then laid at a memorial plaque before the reading of ‘Oft in the Stilly Night’ by Charles Fargher, president of the Rotary Club of Douglas.

Another reading by David Mylchreest was followed by a prayer, while the attendees gathered for refreshments at Green’s Cafe in St John’s.

A spokesperson who attended the service said: ‘The morning rain stopped just in time before the start of the service, with 50 people gathered outside on the 66th anniversary including the Lieutenant Governor Sir John Lorimer and his wife, Lady Lorimer.

‘As well as remembering those who died, and the efforts of the people of Horwich to rescue survivors, we also remembered Kevin Skillicorn who died last week aged 86.

‘Kevin was working at the airport in 1958 and checked in all the passengers for the ill-fated flight to Manchester. He always carried a sense of responsibility for his role in the disaster and regularly attended the remembrance services until ill-health prevented him from doing so.’

The service was organised by the Rotary Club of Douglas because of its ties with the Horwich Rotary Club and the part they played in rescuing survivors on the day of the crash.

A spokesperson from the Rotary Club of Douglas said: ‘Particularly involved in the rescue attempts on that bleak and snowy hillside in 1958 were members of Horwich Rotary Club.

‘Every year since the crash a wreath has been laid by the club at the top of Winter Hill, a ceremony also attended by members of the Rotary Club of Douglas.

‘On the 50th anniversary of the crash in 2008, a memorial plaque was placed in Cooil y Ree Park in St John’s, and Douglas Rotary Club arranges a short service of remembrance there annually.’

In 2018, a special 60th anniversary service was held at the site of the crash in Lancashire, attended by 25 people from the island.