A MEMORIAL to the 33 people who lost their lives almost 50 years ago after the coach they were travelling on crashed off Dibbles Bridge, near Hebden, has been unveiled in their home town - in front of more than 100 people.

A party of 44 women and their male driver set out on a coach from Thornaby-on-Tees on May 27, 1975 on a mystery trip to the Yorkshire Dales.

Only 12 would return alive after the Bedford coach ran out of control and ploughed through the parapet of Dibbles Bridge, landing on its fibreglass roof in the field, some 17 feet below.

The crash became Britain’s worst road disaster and played a major part in the subsequent campaign to improve coach safety.

And, it occurred at the exact same spot where, on June 10, 1925, a motor coach taking 24 people on an outing from York to Grassington plunged over the bridge, killing seven people and injuring 14.

Dibbles Bridge, on the B6265 Grassington to Pateley Bridge road, crosses the River Dibb and is on a sharp right hand bend at the bottom of the one in six gradient Fan Carl Hill.

At the 1975 crash, covered extensively by both local and national press, more than 100 ambulance staff, firemen, police, doctors and nurses, were involved in the rescue operation.

The jury inquest at Skipton Town Hall concluded that the accident was caused by the inability of the driver to negotiate the bend at the bridge owning to deficient brakes, due a possible lack of care in the maintenance of the braking system.

A joint remembrance with people in Thornaby and Hebden had been planned for the 45th anniversary in 2020 but had to be cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But last week, on the 47th anniversary of the crash, a stone memorial, with brass plaque, including the names of all those who died, was unveiled outside the newly restored Thornaby Town Hall to honour the victims from the North Yorkshire town.

The ceremony, attended by more than 100 relatives and those affected by the crash, was the culmination of several years of work by Thornaby town councillors, led by former mayor, Steve Walmsley, to commemorate the victims of the crash, and to have safety measures installed at the site.

First came a documentary film which was broadcast on national television as well as in Grassington.

The town council researched the possibility of installing two memorials, one at the scene of the crash and another outside Thornaby Town Hall - just the one in Thornaby has gone ahead.

Mr Walmsley said: “All these years on there are still many families in the town feeling the loss. In such a close-knit community, I doubt if there was a single family at the time who did not have a connection to the crash victims in some way.

"Those who died or were left traumatised deserve to be remembered and the danger of the site fully recognised."

He added: "Recent fatalities at the picturesque accident blackspot has claimed the lives of three cyclists in separate incidents bringing the total death toll to a staggering 44 lost lives. Hopefully, publicity from the commemoration event on May 27 will focus the minds of those with responsibility for road safety to respond positively and effectively."

The four tonne stone used for the memorial was donated by Hanson's Coldstones Quarry.

Karl Battersby, North Yorkshire County Council's corporate director for business and environmental services, said: "47 years on from the tragic road accident at Dibbles Bridge, we continue to remember the victims and their loved ones who were affected by the crash. It led to a huge improvement in coach safety and the county council, as the local highways authority, has worked hard to deliver road safety improvements to reduce the number of fatalities and serious injuries at this location.

"The challenging nature of this route with its steep descents and turns means cyclists and drivers can be approaching Dibbles Bridge at speed, resulting in a loss of control and failure to turn onto the bridge. We have therefore introduced advanced warning signs, road markings and restraint measures.

"Signs have been installed on the brow of the hill and at the halfway point which includes a safety message to cyclists. All gradient and bend warning signs have been improved and are supported by ‘slow’ road markings. One of the warning signs has been changed from a standard plate to an electronic sign which illuminates along with flashing amber lights when a road user is detected and travelling over a set speed.

"The crash barriers around the bridge have also been updated and fencing has been installed above the bridge parapet and beyond to prevent a cyclist from falling from it should they be unable to complete the turn and strike the bridge.

"We review collision data annually to identify the sites and routes that have the largest number and most severe collisions, and are pleased to say that Dibbles Bridge has not featured on that list for some time. Nevertheless, if the situation changes we will not hesitate to take further action."