AT the top of the 1,468ft Kirkstone Pass in the Lake District, coach driver William Hardy mentioned to his passengers – 28 teenagers from St Mary’s Youth Club in Cockerton, Darlington – that he wasn’t feeling too good.

He managed to negotiate most of the winding drop, but as he neared Brothers Water at the bottom, he felt much worse. With great presence of mind, the 59-year-old put out his trafficator, pulled into a layby and collapsed and died.

With the bus still moving, 18-year-old John Todd, of Bowen Road, grabbed the wheel and steered the bus into a grassy bank where it came to an abrupt stop.

The drama happened on September 19, 1965. One youngster fainted, but no one was hurt.

The Northern Echo: From 1965

“The coach would probably have been similar to this Bedford OB (above),” says Reuben Frankau, drawing the story to our attention. “Mr Hardy ran a number of them during the 1960s, and they seated 29 so would be the right size for a party of 28.

“Manhandling one of these over Kirkstone Pass, fully laden, would require some serious driving.

“But he got everyone safely down.”

The Northern Echo: From 1965

The following day, The Northern Echo (above) reported that the teenagers, aged 15 to 19, had spent the night in Patterdale Village Hall, and that two of Mr Hardy’s nine children were going over to retrieve the vehicle.

Is it possible that anyone who was on board 56 years ago is reading this and can tell us more?

Their lucky escape only merited a succinct report on the inside pages of the Echo because the paper’s front page was dominated by an even more dramatic bus crash – the brakes of a bus from Consett failed as it was going down Lythe Bank on the approach to Sandsend. The bus ended in the beck and three people were hospitalised, but it looks as if the driver should have been hailed a hero...

The Northern Echo: The Northern Echo of September 20, 1965