Munich Air Disaster

Following their victory in the 1958 Quarter-final tie in Belgrade, the plane carrying the Manchester United team back to England needed to stop at Munich to refuel. When they touched down in Germany they were met by blizzard conditions with snow and ice covering the runway and beyond. Conditions were obviously hazardous and once the aircraft was refuelled there were two attempts to take off once more, both of which were aborted due to engine problems. Most of the party assumed that they would have to stay in Munich until the next day when the weather might have cleared – Duncan Edwards sent a telegram home to his landlady to this effect – but it was decided to have one more try at getting the plane airborne.

On the third attempt, the aeroplane overshot the runway, went through a fence and crossed a road before one of the wings struck a house. This caused the wing and some of the tail to be torn off while the house burst into flames. The cockpit struck a tree and the fuselage hit a wooden hut containing a truck loaded with fuel and tyres which exploded. Seven of the players were killed instantly – Roger Byrne, Geoff Bent, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Liam Whelan, Eddie Colman and Tommy Taylor – as well as the club secretary, the first team trainer , the first team coach, eight sportswriters, one of the aircrew and two other passengers. Three weeks later both the aircraft captain and Duncan Edwards, one of the most promising young players ever to come out of England, lost their battle for life.

Manchester went into a state of mourning as news of the tragedy began to filter through and sympathy poured in from all corners of Great Britain, Europe and indeed the whole world. The manager Matt Busby survived but he was seriously ill and was not told about the deaths of so many of his players for some weeks so as not to adversely affect his chances of survival. The following weekend saw silences in memory of those who had died being observed throughout the continent, with ‘Abide With Me’ being sung before kick-off at many English grounds. 200,000 mourners lined the streets of Manchester to greet the return of the players bodies. The President of Red Star Belgrade proposed that United be declared honorary champions of Europe for the year, while the great Hungarian players, Ferenc Puskas, Zoltan Czibor and Sandor Kocsis telephoned Old Trafford to offer their help.

Many more messages and offers came in from around the world, but none of this could alter the fact that the Busby Babes were no more - the heart had been ripped out of the team and although United bravely managed to reach the FA Cup Final that season, any further progress in Europe would prove beyond them. They were drawn against Milan in the semi-finals and, although their patched up side – which also lacked Bobby Charlton who was away on international duty – showed great character in coming back from being a goal down to win the first leg at Old Trafford by 2-1, they were beaten by four goals in the return game and it was the Italians who proceeded to the final in Brussels.

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