Thursday, February 06, 2014
REMEMBERING THE MUNICH DISASTER OF FEBRUARY 6TH 1958, THE DARKEST HOUR IN MANCHESTER UNITED HISTORY
On this day, February 6th, 1958, a charter plane, British European Airways flight 609 carrying the then Manchester United football team, nicknamed the "Busby Babes" coached by the legendary coach Matt Busby, along with supporters and journalists. crashed on its third attempt to take off from a slush-covered runway at Munich-Riem Airport in Munich, West Germany.
Twenty of the 44 on the aircraft died. The injured, some unconscious, were taken to the Rechts der Isar Hospital in Munich where three more died, resulting in 23 fatalities with 21 survivors.
The ''Busby Babes'' as they were popularly known as, was returning from a European Cup match in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (now Serbia), against Red Star Belgrade. The flight stopped to refuel in Munich because a non-stop flight from Belgrade to Manchester was out of the "Elizabethan" class Airspeed Ambassador aircraft's range.
After refuelling, pilots James Thain and Kenneth Rayment twice abandonded take-off because of boost surging in the left engine. Fearing they would get too far behind schedule, Captain Thain rejected an overnight stay in Munich in favour of a third take-off attempt. By then, snow was falling, causing a layer of slush at the end of the runway.
After the aircraft hit the slush, it ploughed through a fence beyond the end of the runway and the left wing was torn off after hitting a house. Fearing the aircraft might explode, Thain began evacuating passengers while Manchester United goalkeeper Harry Gregg helped pull survivors from the wreckage.
An investigation by West German airport authorities originally blamed Thain, saying he did not de-ice the aircraft's wings, despite eyewitness statements to the contrary. It was later established that the crash was caused by slush on the runway, which slowed the plane too much to take-off. Thain was cleared in 1968, ten years after the incident.
Manchester United were trying to become the third club to win three successive English league titles; they were six points behind League leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers with 14 games to go. They also held the Charity Shield and had just advanced into their second successive European Cup semi-final. The team had not been beaten for 11 matches.
Twenty-one of the people on board died instantly. Aeroplane captain Kenneth Rayment died a few weeks later from the injuries he sustained while Duncan Edwards - one of the eight victims from the team - passed away 15 days after the crash. The tragedy is an indelible part of United's history, as is Sir Matt Busby overcoming his injuries to build another great team which won the European Cup 10 years later.
Sir Bobby Charlton survived the Munich air disaster to become one of the most renowned players in world football, an ambassador for his club and country.
The football legend has said little publicly about the disaster until now, nearly 50 years on.
"I thought, 'Why me? Why am I here with nothing happened to me other than a little gash on the head' and all these other friends had been killed?
"I felt it wasn't fair, why should it be me? It took a long time for me to feel better about it, certainly.
"It was such a momentous event, for so many young people to die just on the verge of the great success that was ahead of them, and I couldn't understand why," he said.
Sir Bobby said he believes the design of the plane saved his life.
"I have realised why it was - it was because the design of the aircraft at that particular time was that half the seats were facing forward and half of them backwards.
"All the ones that had their back to the front of the aeroplane were the ones that survived," he said.
"Harry Gregg and Bill Foulkes didn't lose any consciousness at all and they had to go back into the aircraft and do things that I couldn't possibly have done myself, I don't think.
"We walked away and I couldn't believe it. I maybe had a little bit of concussion, but a few days later you realised what had happened and the enormity of what had happened, then you started thinking about how lucky you had been. I was so lucky."
Roger Byrne (28), Eddie Colman (21), Mark Jones (24), David Pegg (22), Tommy Taylor (26), Geoff Bent (25), Liam Whelan (22) and Duncan Edwards (21) all died, along with club secretary Walter Crickmer, trainer Tom Curry and coach Bert Whalley.
Eight journalists died - Alf Clarke, Tom Jackson, Don Davies, George Fellows, Archie Ledbrook, Eric Thompson, Henry Rose, and Frank Swift who was a former Manchester City player. Plane captain Ken Rayment perished, as did Sir Matt's friend Willie Satinoff. Travel agent Bela Miklos and crew member Tom Cable also died.
Margaret Bellis, stewardess (died 1998) Rosemary Cheverton, stewardess George William "Bill Rodgers, radio officer (died 1997), Captain James Thain, pilot (died 1975)
Manchester United players are Johnny Berry (never played again, died 1994), Jackie Blanchflower (never played again, died 1998) Bobby Charlton, Bill Foulkes (died 2013), Harry Gregg, Kenny Morgans (died 2012),Albert Scanlon (died 2009), Dennis Viollet (died 1999)Ray Wood (died 2002)
Manchester United staff, Matt Busby, manager (died 1994)
Journalists and photographers are Ted Ellyard, Daily Mail telegraphist (died 1964), Peter Howard, Daily Mail photographer (died 1996) Frank Taylor, News Chronicle reporter (died 2002)
Other passengers are Vera Lukić and baby daughter Vesna, passengers saved by Harry Gregg. At the time, she was pregnant with her son Zoran.Mrs Eleanor Miklos, wife of Bela Miklo, Nebojša Bato Tomašević, Yugoslavian diplomat