A dramatic plane crash in the back hills between Largs and Kilbirnie resulted in national newspaper front pages in 1956 after the co-pilot died in the explosion but there were amazing accounts of the survivors.

David Hendry, of William Tyre and Son, recalls when he was a young apprentice motor mechanic completing a back shift at Frazers Garage, when Garage proprietor Mr Robert Frazer asked him if he could assist the Ambulance Driver, Mr George King, with an emergency call out.

He said: "The aircraft was on flight from Liverpool on the night of Wednesday March 28 when its nose struck the hillside; its destination was to have been Renfrew Airport and was due to collect passengers for Lourdes for the Holy Week pilgrimmage." The late Bob Harkness, the Shepherd of Whitehill Farm, and his son Hamish, had alerted the emergency services after young Hamish had looked up from Whitehill Farm down on the Main Road, returning home from a night out at the 'Viking' Picture House and saw the bright orange flames on the hillside.

When the first alert call went out from Renfrew Airport that the Dakota was overdue, BEA Pilot Captain W.C.S Yorkston on a flihty from Turnhouse to Renfrew, and saw the wing of an aircraft and an engine on fire in the hills.

When David Hendry and George King arrived at Whitehill Farm, they observed the charred plane at the top of Greenside Hill, between Largs and Kilbirnie.

David recalled: "The brilliant moonlight, starry night guided the rescuers to the plane. We were part of the first rescue party on the scene at the plane crash." The party included Police Constable Richmond Joliffe, who co-ordinated the rescue, Doctor Thomas Johnstone, Fire Chief James Lamb and his first crewmen, Casey McArthur, Rab McLellar and other crew members who carried heavy fire fighting equipment across the moors to the blazing 'Dakota' aircraft.

Shepherd Harkness was standing with the pilot of the crashed aircraft when the rescue party arrived at the crashed plane. He said: "We were first on the scene after I had seen a big red glare light up the sky. I thought it was a shepherd burning something or the heather on fire. When we got up there, we saw bright burning flames. The pilot held his face with his hands and said: - 'We're ok - go and get help'.

By that time, rescue teams including an RAF rescue team from Leuchars, which was training at Inverkip, were climbing the hill and scrambling over two miles of rough terrain to reach the crash victims.

"The pilot walked down the hillside towards us. Then he collapsed in our arms. The nose of the plane was bitten off and the wing was burnt out. We would never have got so quickly to the scene if it wasn't for the help of the moonlight. That might have saved the lives of the two on the hill." Pilot Geoffrey Moss of Liverpool had face, leg and chin injuries, and he had managed to drag air stewardess clear from the plane.

Another rescuer said at the time: "The girl was very brave. The man kept saying all the time - 'How's the girl - is she alright?' Doctor Johnstone administered an injection of morphine to the air stewardess who was lying conscious but in severe pain due to her injuries. He said: "Both the man and the girl were conscious when I got there but the man's only concern was for the girl, I gave them shots of morphia each. the girl kept whispering in the ambulance - 'Where am I?'" David Hendry and George King both carried the stretcher with 24 year old stewardess Hilda Phillips of Liverpool who had suffered leg and back injuries.

David said: "A search was carried out hoping to find the co-pilot was organised by PC Jollife who asked the rescue party to form a human circile and begin searching 200 yards out from the burnt out aircraft.

"The rescue party were issued with torches by the fire services and began searching the moorland ditches and moss runners. The pilot had advised the rescue party that the co-pilot may have been thrown clear of the crashed plane and wondered off the moor. However, the co-pilot was found by the fire services in the burnt out aircraft." The man who died was L.Stanley of Wallasey, Cheshire, The pilot and stewardess were strapped to stretchers as they were taken down the hillside to awaiting ambulances, from Kilbirnie and Paisley, guided by gamekeeper Willie Ross. They were then transported to Paisley Alexandria Infirmary and their condition was described as comfortable at 3am.

The Dakota was one of two due to take Glasgow pilgrims to Lourdes. The first plane arrived , and the crew went to Glasgow not knowing of the tragedy that had hit the sister plane.

A total of 36 pilgrims under Father John Collins of Glasgow along with one other priests and two doctors were due to take off in one plane.

An official of the Cathedral Touring Agency arranged another plane to take the pilgrims to their trip in Lourdes.

Speaking to the 'News', rescuer David Hendry recalled: "I was clocking out at 11pm at Frazer's Garage and told that there was a crash scene up the Haylie Brae near the Camphill reservoir. I was asked if I would go and assist the ambulance driver George King. As we approached, we saw a massive blaze up on the left hand side at the Haylie Brae. Largs and Kilbirnie fire service had arrived on the scene.

"Everything had to be hand carried including all the fire equipment as it was so boggy. Dr Johnstone of Largs, and Chief Lamb, and Robert Harkness, we went uphill ahead of the rescue party and there was a huge blaze and it was quite frightening. Several tanks were exploding. The pilot running about frantically and had helped to drag the air stewardess out of the plane." * Thanks to David Hendry for additional research. Listen to an audio interview with David about his recollections of the local plane crash below http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0RIKcb25y0