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Munich Air Disaster

 

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The Munich air disaster occurred on February 6, 1958, when Flight BE609, a British European Airways "Elizabethan" class Airspeed Ambassador charter aircraft G-ALZU 'Lord Burghley', carrying players and backroom staff of Manchester United F.C., plus a number of journalists and supporters, crashed in a blizzard on its third attempt to take off from Munich-Riem airport.

Twenty-three of the 43 passengers on board the aircraft died in the disaster.

Background

The European Cup had been contested since 1955, although no English club took part in the very first tournament on account of Football League rules. Manchester United entered the 1956-57 tournament and reached the semi-finals, being knocked out by eventual winners Real Madrid; they were thus one of the favourites for the 1957-58 tournament. Domestic league matches were played on Saturdays and European matches were played in midweek, so although air travel was risky at the time, it was the only practical choice if United were to fulfil their league fixtures. Their team was known as the Busby Babes, a reference to their manager Matt Busby and to the average age of the players, which was unusually young.

The club had chartered an aeroplane to fly them home from their European Cup match against the Yugoslavian team Red Star Belgrade, which ended in a 3-3 draw (United won the tie 5-4 on aggregate). The take off from Belgrade was delayed for an hour as the United player Johnny Berry had lost his passport, then the plane made a scheduled stop in Munich to refuel.

Cause

The pilot tried to take off twice, but both attempts were aborted due to the weather conditions. When a third take off was attempted, at 3:06pm, the plane failed to gain adequate height and crashed into the fence surrounding the airport, then into a house, which was unoccupied at the time. Although the crash was originally blamed on pilot error, it was subsequently found to have been caused by the build-up of slush towards the ends of the runway, causing deceleration of the aircraft and preventing safe flying speed from being attained. Aircraft with tail-wheel undercarriages had not been greatly affected by slush, due to the geometry of these undercarriages in relation to the aircraft's centre of gravity), but newer types, such as the Ambassador, with nosewheel landing-gear and the main wheels behind the centre of gravity were found to be vulnerable. The accident resulted in the instigation of operating limits for the amount of slush build-up permitted on runways.

Manchester United after the crash

Seven of Manchester United's players died immediately, and Duncan Edwards died from his injuries on 21 February. Two other players had to retire because of their injuries. Matt Busby was seriously injured and had to stay in hospital for some time after the crash. There was speculation that the club would fold, but a threadbare United team completed the 1957-1958 season, with United's coach Jimmy Murphy standing in as manager. A team largely made up of reserves and youth team players beat Sheffield Wednesday 31 in the first match after the disaster, and although the team's league results were poor they reached the final of the F.A. Cup, losing 20 to Bolton Wanderers. Busby resumed managerial duties the following season and eventually built a second generation of Busby Babes, including George Best, that went on to win the European Cup a decade after the disaster in 1968, beating Benfica. Crash survivor Bobby Charlton was one of the players who also lined up in that team.

Tributes

Music

  • The English folk band The Spinners released a song about the disaster, titled The Flowers of Manchester, in 1962.
  • The Mancunian singer Morrissey released a song called Munich Air Disaster 1958 (as a b-side to Irish Blood, English Heart) in 2004, and performed it live several times that year. It later appeared on his live album Live at Earls Court in 2005.

Film

Barry Navidi is currently working on a script for a Hollywood film about the Munich air crash. The Manchester Evening News (April 22, 2005) reported that the survivors had not been consulted and were concerned about how accurate the film would be. Bill Foulkes was quoted as saying, "If the film was made properly and was respectful to those who perished, it could be a tribute to the Busby Babes which could be seen for generations to come. And those great players who died that day deserve to be remembered. But what worries me is that none of the survivors have been contacted by the film-makers. And without that first-hand knowledge, I don't believe it is possible to make a film like this with any degree of accuracy." Harry Gregg said, "I am sure all of us who were lucky enough to survive the crash have the right to know how we are going to be depicted in the film. Even more important is what the film might say about our team-mates who died that day. They left behind wives and children who are still alive and people over in Hollywood need to take their feelings into consideration before making a film like this." John Doherty, a United player who had not travelled to Belgrade because of injury, was less restrained: "I think it's a terrible idea. It couldn't possibly be a tribute to the Busby Babes, because whoever is making the film doesn't know the people involved. Unless you were there, how could you know what conversations took place? ... As far as I'm concerned, the whole thing stinks. The only reason anyone would want to make a film like this is to make money."

Victims

Manchester United players

  • Roger Byrne
  • Mark Jones
  • Duncan Edwards
  • Eddie Colman
  • Tommy Taylor
  • Liam Whelan
  • David Pegg
  • Geoff Bent

Other victims

  • Walter Crickmer - Club secretary
  • Bert Whalley - Chief Coach
  • Tom Curry - Trainer
  • Alf Clarke - Journalist, Manchester Evening Chronicle
  • Don Davies - Journalist, Manchester Guardian
  • George Follows - Journalist, Daily Herald
  • Tom Jackson - Journalist, Manchester Evening News
  • Archie Ledbrooke - Journalist, Daily Mirror
  • Henry Rose - Journalist, Daily Express
  • Eric Thompson - Journalist, Daily Mail
  • Frank Swift - Journalist, News of the World (also former England and Manchester City goalkeeper)
  • Capt Kenneth Rayment - Co-pilot
  • Bela Miklos - Travel Agent
  • Willie Satinoff - Supporter
  • Tom Cable - Steward

Survivors

Manchester United players

  • Johnny Berry
  • Jackie Blanchflower
  • Dennis Viollet
  • Ray Wood

Still living:

  • Bobby Charlton
  • Bill Foulkes
  • Harry Gregg
  • Ken Morgans
  • Albert Scanlon

Other survivors

  • Matt Busby - Team manager

Still living:

  • Frank Taylor - Journalist
  • Peter Howard - Photographer
  • Ted Ellyard - Photographer
  • Mrs Vera Lukic and baby daughter - Passengers (saved by Manchester United player Harry Gregg)
  • Mrs Miklos - Wife of Bela Miklos, the travel agent that arranged trip and died in the crash
  • Mr N Tomasevic - Passenger
  • James Thain - Captain
  • Rosemary Cheverton - Stewardess

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