Munich Air Crash
The Munich Air Disaster has a tragic resonance of young lives cut short. Of talent unfulfilled.
50 years ago in Munich, a British European Airways flight crashed during take-off killing 23 people and injuring nineteen more. The plane was making its third attempt to take flight in the frigid cold of the German airport. After two abortive attempts, the plane, captained by James Thain and his co-pilot Captain Kenneth Rayment, crashed on its third attempt, skidding on slush that had gathered at the end of the runway. Part of the fuselage collided with a fuel dump causing an explosion. 21 people died at the scene, two more in the following days in hospital.
Onboard the flight were the Busby Babes; Manchester United ’s fearsomely talented young side. They were on their way back to England after competing in the European Cup against Red Star Belgrade. More than half of United’s first team died on the day: Geoff Bent, fullback; team captain Roger Byrne; Eddie Colman, 21, was the youngest victim; Mark Jones, centre half; David Pegg, the quicksilver winger was just 22; Tommy Taylor, he was subject to a record transfer bid from Italian giants Internazionale; and Liam Whelan, the club’s 22-year-old Irish winger. Duncan Edwards , a versatile midfielder, indomitable on the pitch, died fifteen days after the crash.
Three club officials perished in the crash: Walter Crichmer, club secretary; Tom Curry, trainer; Bert Whalley, chief coach. So too eight journalists: Alf Clarke; Donny Davies; George Follows; Tom Jackson; Archie Ledbrooke; Henry Rose; Eric Thomson; Frank Swift (former Manchester City goalkeeper).
United’s manager, Sir Matt Busby , was in a grave condition in hospital. Despite receiving the last rites twice, he survived. The remainder of the squad, including Sir Bobby Charlton , survived – though Jackie Blanchflower and Johnny Berry would never play again.
Thain was blamed by the German aviation authorities. They insisted that he had not de-iced the plane’s wings. After a ten-year-long enquiry his name was cleared. But after Munich, he never flew again.
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