Today is the 57th Anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster. Andy Hyslop from the Sir Alex Ferguson Way shares with us the history of this tragic event and the players we lost.
February the 6th Manchester will mark the 57th Anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster that took away what could have been the greatest Manchester United team ever. The Munich Air Disaster occurred when British European Airways flight 609 crashed on its third take off attempt from a slush covered runway at Munich-Riem Airport. On the flight were Manchester United players and staff, supporters and journalists who would have been covering Manchester United’s game in Belgrade, Yugoslavia against Red Star Belgrade. The flight had stopped in Munich to refuel because a direct flight from Belgrade to Manchester was out of the Airspeed AS-57 Ambassador’s flight range. After refueling pilots James Thain and Kenneth Rayment had twice abandoned take off attempts because of boost surging in the aircrafts left engine.
Fearing they would get too far behind schedule, Captain Thain rejected an overnight stay in Munich in favour of a third take off attempt. By which time snow was falling, causing a layer of slush at the end of the runway. The aircraft hit the slush and ploughed through a fence beyond the end of the runway and the aircraft’s left wing was torn off after hitting a house. Fearing that the aircraft would explode, Captain Thain began evacuating passengers from the wreckage with help from Manchester United goalkeeper Harry Gregg. Captain Thain was originally blamed by West German airport authorities, saying he did not de-ice the aircraft’s wings, despite eyewitness accounts to the contrary. It was later established the crash was caused by slush on the runway which had slowed the plane too much to take off. Thain wasn’t cleared until 1968, ten years on from the crash.
The crash occurred in the 1957/58 season and Manchester United were trying to become the third club to win three successive English League titles, they were six points behind leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers with 14 games to go, they were the Charity Shield holders and had just reached their second successive European Cup semi-final, they had not been beaten for 11 games. This really was a team on the verge of greatness. We can only speculate whether or not they would have won the European Cup in 1958 but you have to feel that they would have won two or three European Cups before they eventually did in 1968. Manchester United would probably be on 5 or 6 European Cups nowadays but then again would Manchester United be the club they are today if it wasn’t for the Munich Air Disaster.