Survivor of Saddleworth Moor plane crash recalls tragedy on 70th anniversary

THE last known survivor of a plane crash on Saddleworth Moor that killed 24 passengers, including his younger brother, has spoken to the Independent on the 70th anniversary of the tragedy. 

Pictures courtesy of Saddleworth Museum Archives

Professor Stephen Evans was only five when a twin engined Douglas DC3 Dakota, en-route from Belfast to Manchester, came down in bad weather at Wimberry Stones on August 19, 1949.

Professor Evans’ two-year-old brother, Roger, died but he and their parents, Horace and Ruth, were among eight people rescued alive from the hills above Dovestone Reservoir.

In 2016, he returned to the scene of the tragedy for the first time. It was just few months after police linked the crash to the search for the identify of a pensioner-known then only as Neil Dovestone- whose body was found on a path leading up to Chew Reservoir.

‘Neil’ was eventually revealed to be London born David Lytton though it took Professor Evans until last year to discover the final resting place of his brother.

Despite the horrors of 1949, the Southampton based Professor of Pharmacoepidemiology is not haunted by the tragedy.

Indeed, he was due to fly to America on this latest anniversary only to be grounded by a back injury.

“I notice but I don’t make a big thing out of it,” he explained. “I don’t do anything special on this day.

“I was booked to fly (BA) on the anniversary of the crash to Boston for work.

“But unfortunately I’m not fit to fly and had to cancel the flight. I also flew on the 60th anniversary from Boston to England.”

Professor Evans (picture thanks to Annerose Koerber)

Seventy years ago Professor Evans and other injured passengers were carried to Kinders Intake Farm.

“A lovely lady offered me tea but I wouldn’t take it,” he recalled. “But then, when the ambulance arrived, I wouldn’t go until they have me a cup of tea.

“I was a difficult child and remained so for the rest of my life I daresay.

“When I came back I went to the farmhouse but it didn’t look as though as I remembered it.

“A lady there remarked the niece of the person who used to lived there when the crash had happened painted a picture of their home as it was.

“It was only after that I read something that said the niece went with me in the ambulance to the hospital. I guess she could still be alive because she was relatively young at the time.”

Three years ago Professor Evans spoke of his desire to plant a memorial to Roger at Dovestone’s Life for a Life Memorial Forest.

“It wasn’t a forbidden thing to talk about him,” he added. “And I certainly did plan to get a memorial tree planted.

“But through a lot of work and chance remark by a cousin I discovered my brother was actually buried near to Nottingham.

“The cemetery had the record but there was no physical memorial and I am trying to arrange for that.

“It’s complex though because he was buried in one of my great-grandparent’s grave.”

Despite nearly losing his life Professor Evans admits the accident has caused moments of black humour.

During the search for Neil Dovestone, Professor Evans  told the Independent: “In 1949, my ‘death’ was reported by the Belfast Evening Telegraph. But they had got my brother and I the wrong way round.

“So, I’ve now had my death reported twice. My youngest son suggests when I finally make it to the other side we get a newspaper headline saying: ‘Third Time Lucky.’”

3 Replies to “Survivor of Saddleworth Moor plane crash recalls tragedy on 70th anniversary”

  1. Yes, I remember that. It had been very foggy and we heard the plane which was flying too low. There was this bump and then silence. My dad rushed in from the garden and said ‘I think it’s crashed’ Soon we heard bells from the ambulances going to help. When the fog lifted, we could see the plane on the hillside. I could see it clearly from my bedroom window. I found it very disturbing and would not fly. I was 67 before I had conquered my fear of flying, enough for me to fly to Paris. I never flew anywhere again. It is a childhood memory that I have never forgotten.

  2. The engine noise was so loud as the plane roared over the house. My dad ran out of the house shouting ‘That’s too low’. He was at home because it was Saddleworth Wakes and the mills were shut for the holiday.

  3. I remember sitting on the front garden wall of our house on Chew Valley Road watching as ambulance after ambulance rushed by. I will never forget that sad day.

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