On this day in history : 6th February 1958 – Seven Manchester United football players are among twenty killed as their plane crashed on take-off at Munich-Riem Airport….

The Manchester United team, known as the ‘Busby Babes’ after their manager Matt Busby, had won the hearts of the Nation…. In the previous two seasons they had won First Division titles and had just drew 3-3 against Red Star Belgrade ~ securing a place in the European semi finals for the second year running….

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Manchester United’s “Busby Babes” pictured in 1958, before their last match. Scanpix – Public domain

They were on their way back to Manchester from Yugoslavia and had stopped at Munich to refuel…. The team’s chartered six-year-old Airspeed AS-57 Ambassador had already made two aborted attempts at take-off from Munich, due to technical difficulties…. The pilot, James Thain, decided despite deteriorating weather conditions to try again – as they were already behind schedule…. Understandably the team members were feeling nervous as they boarded for the third time….

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The Airspeed Ambassador G-ALZU at Riem Airport shortly before the accident – Fair use

By now it had begun to snow heavily….a build up of slush on the runway meant the plane was unable to reach the full speed needed for takeoff…. The aircraft overshot the runway and hit a house and tree before smashing its way through a hut, which exploded…. Once the plane had come to a stop the pilot and surviving crew helped their passengers evacuate….with the help of Manchester United’s goal keeper, Harry Gregg, who had sustained only minor injuries….

Seven United players were killed in the crash; team captain Roger Byrne, 28 – Tommy Taylor, 26 – Geoff Bent, 25 – Mark Jones, 24 – David Pegg, 22 – Liam Whelan, 22 and Eddie Colman, 21…. Pegg and Taylor were both England international players….

Another player and England international, Duncan Edwards, died of his injuries in hospital 15 days later…. Two other survivors of the crash also died in hospital….

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The Airspeed Ambassador G-ALZU burning at Munich – Fair use

Three of United’s staff died; Walter Crickmer, Club Secretary – Bert Whalley, chief coach and Tom Curry, trainer….

Eight journalists on board the plane were killed; one being Frank Swift of the News of the World – a former goal keeper for Manchester City and who had played for England 19 times….

Two aircraft crew were also killed; co-pilot Captain Kenneth Raymond and steward Tom Cable…. Two other passengers also lost their lives….

Matt Busby was severely injured and was read his last rites twice – but he recovered after two months in hospital….

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Sir Matt Busby. Credit: Kurt Nielsen @ Scanpix – Public domain

Ten years later his dream was realised when Manchester United won the European Cup in 1968…. Sir Matt Busby retired as Manager in 1969….

 

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