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Munich air disaster - The Man Utd 'Busby Babes' tragedy that shocked football

1:00 PM EST 2/1/18
Munich air disaster memorial Old Trafford
The anniversary of one of the most chilling moments in the history of the English club is coming up and is set to be marked

Manchester United will soon be commemorating the 60th anniversary of one of the most tragic events in the history of the club - the Munich air disaster.

The catastrophe, which claimed the lives 23 people including a number of the famous 'Busby Babes' team, was a dreadful chapter in the storied club's history and is still felt to this day.

A number of survivors are still involved with the Red Devils and supporters regularly pay tribute to what is widely regarded as one of the finest teams in the club's history, struck down in their prime.

As Man United prepare to mark the anniversary, Goal looks back at the event, the aftermath and memorials.


When was the Munich air disaster?


The fatal crash occurred on February 6, 1958 in Munich as the Man United team were returning from a European Cup quarter-final game against Red Star Belgrade in what was then Yugoslavia.

United won the tie 5-4 on aggregate after drawing 3-3 in Belgrade thanks to a goal from Dennis Viollet and a Bobby Charlton double, thus booking their place in the semi-final of the competition

As with the outward journey, due to the fact a direct route was out of range, the flight had stopped at the Munich-Riem airport in order to re-fuel before disaster struck during take-off for England.


Munich air disaster: What happened?


Following their victory, the team, supporters, journalists and crew left Belgrade on February 6 following a delay after player Johnny Berry lost his passport. Having left the sunshine of Yugoslavia, the plane arrived to wintry conditions in Munich at 13:15.

After landing, the passengers left the plane and indulged in some refreshments within the airport terminal building while others, according to the BBC, playfully threw snowballs at the refuelling team. Just over an hour after their arrival at 14:20, the plan was cleared to take-off.

However, the take-off was aborted after Captain James Thain and his co-pilot Captain Kenneth Rayment noticed unusual fluctuation on the pressure guage, as well as odd sounds from the engine while accelerating.

A second take-off was attempted but aborted for the same reasons and the passengers were advised to disembark and return to the terminal while the plane underwent an engine check. During this period, Man United player Duncan Edwards sent a telegram to his landlady informing her that they would be flying home the next day.

But, shortly after disembarking, the travelling party were called back to the plane for a third take-off attempt. At 15:04, the plan attempted to take off once more but failed to reach sufficient speed or height and skidded off the runway before crashing into a perimeter fence, then into a nearby house.


Which Manchester United players were involved?


The crash claimed a total of 23 lives, with 21 people surviving the disaster. Of the 23 people who died, eight of them were Manchester United players. 

Geoff Bent, Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor and Liam Whelan all died at the scene.

United player Duncan Edwards and co-pilot captain Rayment were retrieved from the wreckage alive but later died in hospital as a result of their injuries.

There were worries that a number of other survivors would not pull through, with last rites administered to Man United manager Matt Busby and star player Bobby Charlton.

Other surviving players, namely Johnny Berry and Jackie Blanchflower, would never play again due to the injuries they sustained.

One of the survivors, goalkeeper Harry Gregg, has been hailed as 'The Hero of Munich' for his efforts in aiding with the evacuation of the wreckage.

Munich air disaster fatalities and survivors

Fatalities Survivors
Geoff Bent Johnny Berry
Roger Byrne Jackie Blanchflower
Eddie Colman Bobby Charlton
Duncan Edwards Bill Foulkes
Mark Jones Harry Gregg
David Pegg Kenny Morgans
Tommy Taylor Albert Scanlon
Liam Whelan Dennis Viollet
Captain Kenneth Rayment Ray Wood
Tom Cable Matt Busby
Walter Crickmer Ted Ellyard
Tom Curry Peter Howard
Bert Whalley Frank Taylor
Alf Clarke Vera Lukic
Donny Davies Vesna Lukic
George Follows Eleanor Miklos
Tom Jackson Nebojsa Bato Tomasevic
Archie Ledbrooke Margaret Bellis
Henry Rose Rosemary Cheverton
Frank Swift George William Rogers
Eric Thompson Captain James Thain
Bela Miklos  
Willie Satinoff  

Who is Harry Gregg?


Harry Gregg is a former Manchester United player who survived the Munich air disaster and he has been lauded as a hero for his actions during the tragic event.

The former goalkeeper was 25 at the time of the crash and is often referred to as the 'Hero of Munich' for helping to rescue people from the wreckage.

Gregg returned to the burning plane to save Vera Lukic, who was pregnant, and her daughter, as well as team-mates Bobby Charlton, Dennis Viollet and Jackie Blanchflower, not to mention Matt Busby.

Amazingly, despite suffering a fractured skull in the crash, Gregg returned to action less than two weeks afterwards. Playing football again, he has said, kept him sane.

A native of Derry in Northern Ireland, Gregg played for United from 1957 until December 1966, when he joined Stoke City

He played 25 times for Northern Ireland during his career, featuring at the 1958 World Cup, where he was named the tournament's best goalkeeper.


Munich air disaster memorials


The catastrophe sent shockwaves through Manchester and wider English society, and thousands attended the funerals of the deceased. At football games around the country, two minutes of silence were observed as a mark of respect.

Despite the disaster, Man United played a match in the FA Cup against Sheffield Wednesday later that month, winning 3-0. The cover of the matchday programme read 'United will go on'.

A number of commemorative plaques have been put in place at Old Trafford and anniversaries have been solemnly observed over the years. On February 7, 1998, for example, the 40th anniversary was commemorated during a game against Bolton Wanderers, with kick-off moved to 15:15 in order to acknowledge the time of the crash.

In 2008, the 50th anniversary of the crash was observed in a memorial service at Old Trafford, attended by surviving members of the 1958 team and a ceremony took place to unveil the Munich Tunnel, which features an exhibition dedicated to the team.

Man United have confirmed that a memorial service will be held at Old Trafford on February 6, 2018 to mark the 60th anniversary. A minute's silence will also be held ahead of their February 3 clash against Huddersfield Town.

Supporters are welcome to attend the service on February 6, which is due to begin at 14:45 GMT.