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The fateful crash and loss of life

Wed Jan 02, 2008 10:58 pm


Those on board were in a relaxed mood when the plane landed on German soil. They had played cards, chatted over the latest news, read any books and magazines which were around and passed the time away as best they could. There was the usual air of nervous apprehension about the flight, but card schools and conversation hid any fears of flying and some even managed to catch up on lost sleep rather than gaze out on the snowscape below.

By around 2 pm G-ALZU AS 57 was ready once more for take-off with Captain Kenneth Rayment, the second in command, at the controls. The man in charge, Captain James Thain, had flown the plane out to Belgrade, and his close friend and colleague was now taking the `Lord Burleigh' home again.

At 2.31 pm the aircraft control tower was told that `609 Zulu Uniform is rolling' and Captain Thain later described what happened:

"Ken opened the throttles which were between us and when they were fully open I tapped his hand and held the throttles in the fully open position. Ken moved his hand and I called for `full power'. The engines sounded an uneven note as the aircraft accelerated and the needle on the port pressure gauge started to fluctuate. I felt a pain in my hand as Ken pulled the throttles back and said: `Abandon takeoff. I held the control column fully forward while Ken put on the brakes. Within 40 seconds of the start of its run the aircraft was almost at a halt again".

The cause of the problem had been boost surging - a very rich mixture of fuel causing the engines to over-accelerate - a fault which was quite common in the Elizabethan. As the two men talked over the problem Captain Rayment decided that he would attempt a second take-off, this time opening the throttles gradually before releasing the brakes, and then moving to full power.

The telegram Duncan Edwards sent to his landlady back in Manchester telling her of the delay.....but a third attempt at take-off was made. The telegram was delivered after the crash.

At 2.34 pm permission for a second take-off attempt was given by air traffic control and for a second time the plane came to a halt. During their wait while the aircraft was being refueled, the passengers had gone into a lounge for coffee. Now, after the two aborted attempts to take off, the party was in the lounge once more. It had begun to snow quite heavily. Full-back Bill Foulkes remembers:

"We'd been playing cards for most of the flight from Belgrade to Munich, and I remember when we left the aircraft thinking how cold it was. We had one attempt at taking off, but didn't leave the ground, so I suppose a few of those on board would start to worry a little bit, and when the second take-off failed we were pretty quiet when we went back into the lounge".

Some of the players must have felt that they would not be flying home that afternoon. Duncan Edwards sent a telegram to his landlady back in Manchester: "All flights cancelled returning home tomorrow". The telegram was delivered at around 5 pm.

Bill Foulkes recalls how after a quarter of an hour delay the passengers were asked to board again but it was another five minutes before everyone was back in the aircraft.

"Alf Clarke from the Evening Chronicle had put a call through to his office and we had to wait for him to catch up with us. We got back into our seats, but we didn't play cards this time.... I slipped the pack into my jacket pocket and sat back waiting for take-off. I was sitting about half-way down the aircraft next to a window, on the right-hand side of the gangway. Our card school was Ken Morgans, who was on my right, and facing us David Pegg and Albert Scanlon. Matt Busby and Bert Whalley were sitting together on the seat behind us and I remember how Mark Jones, Tommy Taylor, Duncan Edwards and Eddie Colman were all at the back.

David Pegg got up and moved to the back: `I don't like it here, it's not safe,' he said and went off to sit with the other players. I saw big Frank Swift back there too, he also felt that the rear was the safest place to be. There was another card school across the gangway from us, Ray Wood and Jackie Blanchflower were sitting on two of the seats, Roger Byrne, Billy Whelan and Dennis Viollet on the others with one empty seat amongst them".

A last photograph of Henry Rose (right) and Tommy Taylor as they share a moment together on the Elizabethan aircraft which crashed at Munich.

Back on the flight deck Captain Thain and Captain Rayment had discussed the problem they were having with the station engineer William Black, who had told them that the surging they were having was quite common at airports like Munich because of its altitude. At 3.03 pm 609 Zulu Uniform was rolling again. Captain Thain describes the next attempt at take-off:

"I told Ken that if we got boost surging again, I would control the throttles. Ken opened them to 28 inches with the brakes on. The engines were both steady so he released the brakes and we moved forward again. He continued to open the throttles and again I followed with my left hand until the levers were fully open. I tapped his hand and he moved it. He called `Full power' and I checked the dials and said: `Full power'".

Captain Thain again noticed that there was a sign of boost surging and called this out to Captain Rayment above the noise of the engines. The surging was controlled and the throttle pushed back until it was fully open:

"I glanced at the air speed indicator and saw it registered 105 knots and was flickering. When it reached 117 knots I called out `V1' [Velocity One, the point on the runway after which it isn't safe to abandon take-off]. Suddenly the needle dropped to about 112 and then 105. Ken shouted, `Christ, we can't make it' and I looked up from the instruments to see a lot of snow and a house and a tree right in the path of the aircraft".

Inside the passengers' compartment Bill Foulkes had sensed that something was wrong:

"There was a lot of slush flying past the windows and there was a terrible noise, like when a car leaves a smooth road and starts to run over rough ground".

Friday, Ferbruary 7, 1958 and the full horror of the crash is revealed. In the foreground the shredded tail of the aircraft is almost unrecognisable. This part of the Elizabethan had struck a house, setting it on fire. In the centre background is the main body of the craft.

The Elizabethan left the runway, went through a fence and crossed a road before the port wing struck a house. The wing and part of the tail were torn off and the house caught fire. The cockpit struck a tree and the starboard side of the fuselage hit a wooden hut containing a truck loaded with fuel and tyres. This exploded.

Bill Foulkes had crouched down in his seat after tightening his safety belt. He remembered afterwards a terrific bang, then after being unconscious for a few moments, seeing a gaping hole in front of him.

"The back of the aircraft had just disappeared. I got out as quickly as I could and just ran and ran. Then I turned and realised that the plane wasn't going to explode, and I went back. In the distance I could see the tail part of the aircraft blazing and as I ran back I came across bodies. Roger Byrne still strapped to his seat, Bobby Charlton lying quite still in another seat, and Dennis Viollet. Then Harry Gregg appeared and we tried to see what we could do to help".

The two team-mates helped the injured. Matt Busby, badly hurt, was taken away on a stretcher, Bobby Charlton had walked over to Gregg and Foulkes and was helped into a mini-bus, sitting alongside Dennis Viollet in the front seats as other survivors were picked up. They were taken to the Rechts de Isar Hospital in Munich. It was the following day before the true horror of the air crash became evident to Bill Foulkes and Harry Gregg:

"We went in and saw Matt in an oxygen tent, and Duncan Edwards, who seemed to be badly hurt. Bobby Charlton had a bandaged head, Jackie Blanchflower was nursing a badly gashed arm which had been strapped up by Harry Gregg in the snow of the night before. Albert Scanlon lay with his eyes closed, he had a fractured skull, and Dennis Viollet had a gashed head and facial injuries. Ray Wood's face was cut and he had concussion and Ken Morgans and Johnny Berry lay quite still in their beds. I spoke to a nurse and she told me that she thought Duncan had a better chance of making a full recovery than Johnny did....

Bobby Charlton, aged 20 at the time, sits at the bedside of goalkeeper Ray Wood in the Rechts der Isar hospital in Munich a few days after the crash. Charlton was able to return to play in the sixth round FA Cup tie on 1 March 1958, but Wood was to lose his place in the team to Harry Gregg in the following weeks.

We came across Frank Taylor in another bed; he was the only journalist around and he asked if we'd like to have a beer with him. Like us, he didn't know the full implications of what had happened the afternoon before. We were about to leave the hospital when I asked a nurse where we should go to see the other lads. She seemed puzzled so I asked her again: `Where are the other survivors?' ....
`Others? There are no others, they are all here.' It was only then that we knew the horror of Munich. The Busby Babes were no more."

Roger Byrne, Geoff Bent, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Liam Whelan, Eddie Colman and Tommy Taylor had been killed instantly. Club secretary Walter Crickmer had also died, along with the first team trainer, Tom Curry, and coach Bert Whalley.

Duncan Edwards and Johnny Berry were critically injured and fighting for their lives, Matt Busby had suffered extensive injuries and was the only club official to survive the crash.

Eight of the nine sportswriters on board the aircraft had also perished: Alf Clarke, Don Davies, George Follows, Tom Jackson, Archie Ledbrooke, Henry Rose, Eric Thompson and the gentle giant, Frank Swift. One of the aircrew had been killed, together with two other passengers: the travel agent who had arranged the flight details, and a supporter who had flown out to watch the game. Nine players had survived, but two of them, Johnny Berry and Jackie Blanchflower - brother of Tottenham Hotspur's Danny - never played again.

Two photographers, the travel agent's wife, and two Yugoslav passengers, one with a young baby, had survived, together with Frank Taylor. On the afternoon of the crash 21 people had died, 18 had survived, of whom four were close to death.

Of those four, Duncan Edwards, Matt Busby, Johnny Berry and Captain Kenneth Rayment, two would survive. Three weeks after the air crash, which had become known simply as `Munich', Duncan Edwards and Kenneth Rayment, had lost their battle to live.

A last photograph of Henry Rose (right) and Tommy Taylor as they share a moment together on the Elizabethan aircraft which crashed at Munich.

Friday, Ferbruary 7, 1958 and the full horror of the crash is revealed. In the foreground the shredded tail of the aircraft is almost unrecognisable. This part of the Elizabethan had struck a house, setting it on fire. In the centre background is the main body of the craft.

The telegram Duncan Edwards sent to his landlady back in Manchester telling her of the delay.....but a third attempt at take-off was made. The telegram was delivered after the crash.

Bobby Charlton, aged 20 at the time, sits at the bedside of goalkeeper Ray Wood in the Rechts der Isar hospital in Munich a few days after the crash. Charlton was able to return to play in the sixth round FA Cup tie on 1 March 1958, but Wood was to lose his place in the team to Harry Gregg in the following weeks.

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Re: The fateful crash and loss of life

Mon Jan 07, 2008 12:43 pm

Biting winter winds and blowing snow swirled around Munich Airport as the passenger plane prepared for take-off on a grey, winter afternoon.

"Hope the elastic band doesn't break", joked one of the passengers, as the twin engines of the British European Airways Elizabethan aircraft roared into life on the slush-covered runway. If the laughter which greeted this well-worn joke was tinged with nervousness, it was understandable.

The plane bringing Manchester United's famous "Busby Babes" home from another footballing triumph, had already made two unsuccessful attempts at take-off because of technical problems with the engines.

Now the normal high spirits of the young soccer stars were somewhat subdued as the aircraft, call-sign 609 Zulu Uniform, tried to get airborne a third time with co-pilot Captain Ken Rayment at the controls.

It was 3.03pm….slush spraying beneath its wheels, the 47-seat plane gathered speed. But as it raced along the runway, at least one passenger sensed that something was terribly wrong.

Sports journalist Frank Taylor, who had followed the rise to fame of this dazzling young Manchester United side, peered anxiously into the gloom. "My heart froze when I saw the perimeter fence rushing towards us", he said. "I knew, in a chilling second, we were not going to make it."

It was a stomach-churning realisation which had also dawned on the flight crew in the cockpit of the sleek airliner, which was named the Lord Burghley.
Capt Rayment had pulled back on the control column to raise the nose-wheel free of the slush prior to take-off, but instruments indicated the 100mph-plus speed of the aircraft was dropping.
Flight Commander Capt James Thain, 36, beside him, frantically punched at the throttle controls in the hope of boosting power. But the engines were already at full-throttle.

"Christ !" shouted Capt Rayment as the end of the runway raced towards them and the aircraft gave no sign of lift-off. "We won't make it !"

Moments later, he was proved right. The plane overshot the runway, smashed into the boundary fence, and bumped crazily more than 200 yards across a snow-covered field. It was 3.04pm.

The aircraft slewed across a small road, and slammed into an isolated house on the edge of the small village of Kirchtrudering. The impact tore off the left wing, and ripped off part of the tail unit, setting the house on fire. Spinning out of control, the stricken plane slithered further, and struck an out-building with a sickening impact. The complete tail section was torn off, hurling passengers into the snow.
As the cartwheeling airliner finally came to a halt, the tearing and crashing noises gradually subsided, and suddenly there was complete silence, with only the wind whistling across the frozen fields.

It was almost like an instant requiem, and entirely appropriate. For in just 54 seconds, the invincible Busby Babes, winners of two League Championships in succession, had been decimated.
Its back broken and one wing ripped away, the plane was a smouldering wreck. Dead and horribly injured passengers lay sprawled in the debris, their blood staining the snow.
Some cried out in pain, others lay like broken dolls and made no sound.

Goalkeeper Harry Gregg was one of the first to stumble from the wreckage, minus his shoes and bleeding from the nose. "I couldn't figure out where the hell I was", he recalled. "At the time I was a very religious person, and it was so black I thought I was dead. Eventually, I could feel blood running down my face. I thought, 'Christ, I'm not dead'. Above me to my right I could see flames and some daylight. I started to crawl towards the light. I looked out of this hole and the first thing I saw was our Coach, Bert Whalley, lying dead in the snow. I thought I was the only one alive, then I heard a child's cry from the plane"

The baby Harry heard was 22 month-old Vesna Lukic, daughter of the Yugoslavian air attaché in London. She and her mother had been allowed to hitch a ride to London on United's charter plane. With flames from the burning hulk leaping 50ft into the air, the big Irishman plunged back into the wreckage to carry the baby to safety.

Survivors were wandering around in a daze, many crawling on their hands and knees, through the snow and mud.
Noticing that Gregg was still dangerously close to the wreck, Capt Thain, carrying a small fire extinguisher, raced up to him and shouted: "Run, you stupid bastard. It's going to blow."
But Harry ignored him, scrambling back into the blazing fuselage to pull out the mother of the baby he had just rescued.
Close to the flames, but still alive, slumped Matt Busby. This was the man whose visionary youth policy had produced the Busby Babes.
The soft-spoken Scotsman had gathered together the best schoolboys in the land, and groomed them into a team of stunning skills, the cream of a generation welded into a side that already ranked with the best in the world, and seemed destined for greatness.

Refuelling in Munich had been the last stop in a triumphant journey home to Manchester, after drawing 3-3 with Red Star in Belgrade the previous day, to earn a place in the European Cup semi-final.

Semi-conscious and bewildered, bloodstained Busby sat in the snow, painfully holding his chest with his legs stretched out in front of him, and one foot badly twisted.
And all around him on the icy ground, lay the remnants of his dream team. Dead, dying, or horribly injured.

Jackie Blanchflower, a Northern Ireland international and younger brother of Danny, was crying as he sprawled in the slush, his right arm snapped grotesquely at the elbow. Draped across him was the body of captain and left-back Roger Byrne, dead without a mark on him. Kneeling on the muddy grass, Gregg undid his tie and applied it as a tourniquet to Blanchflower's shattered arm.

Another survivor, tough-tackling centre-half Bill Foulkes, stood beside them and warned that Gregg was pulling the strip of cloth too tight. But the big goalkeeper didn't seem to hear.

A doctor arrived with a syringe, but there were explosions from the burning half of the plane, and they threw the doctor off his feet.

When the plane crashed, Foulkes had been sitting next to a window about half way down the plane with his back to the cockpit. He was in a card school with team-mates David Pegg, Albert Scanlon, and Ken Morgans, but just before take-off Pegg announced: "I'm not sitting here, it's not safe", and switched to the back of the plane. It was a move that proved fatal.

Foulkes could see swirling snow and flying slush as the plane gathered speed. Then there was a tremendous bang, and the next thing he remembered was staring into space, because the back of the plane had just disappeared.
"I undid my seat-belt, got out and ran as fast as I could", he remembers now. "I just ran and ran across a field, and the snow became deeper and deeper. Then I stopped and turned around. I could see the part of the plane I had left. And some distance away, there was the back of the plane, ablaze in a petrol dump. All that could be seen of it was the tail fin. I started to run back to the plane. Then I saw the bodies."

It was just past 3pm on February 6th, 1958, that the Rechts der Isar Hospital in Munich got the call from the airport almost three miles away, and went on immediate disaster alert.

A fleet of ambulances sped to the crash site, where survivors like Bobby Charlton and Dennis Viollett still sat stunned amid the wreckage, forced to face the awful realisation that many of their team-mates were beyond help.

At the hospital, Professor Verna Theisinger directed priority operations for the most badly injured, and side rooms were hastily converted into emergency operating theatres. "It was like looking at a war", he said.

As rescue vehicles and ambulances criss-crossed the crash site, Harry Gregg stood amid the wreckage with the bleak look of a man who couldn't believe what had happened to Britain's greatest soccer team.
"I remember standing there on that chilling, snow-swept runway", he recalled later,. "I felt alone and helpless,. And I was moaning to myself, 'It's all gone, all finished' ".

Britain was stunned by the news from Munich, but in an age when communications were far less efficient, the full enormity of the tragedy took time to become clear.
The first agency messages said that only three were dead. But as crowds began to gather outside the United ground at Old Trafford, it became obvious that the death-toll would rise.

Assistant manager Jimmy Murphy, who would normally have been in Munich, had just got back from Cardiff where he had managed the Welsh team against Israel.
"I hadn't heard about the crash", he said. "I remember going into the office and asking Alma George, our secretary, if she would like a drink. She suddenly burst into tears. All she said was , 'The plane has crashed.' The horror of those words will haunt me forever."

High above Old Trafford's main stand, the club flag with its famous red emblem was lowered to half-mast and Murphy, Busby's right-hand man, did his best to keep the waiting fans informed.

Not that there was much to tell. Out in Munich they were still identifying the dead on the runway, and counting the survivors.
Spotting sportswriter Derek Wallis in the crowd outside the famous ground, Murphy invited him into his office, and poured two stiff whiskies.
"They're dead", he said bleakly. "I know it. They're dead. All dead." And he wept.

They weren't all dead. But the Busby Babes, golden boys of British soccer, were virtually wiped out. Seven had lost their lives: Captain and left-back Roger Byrne, buccaneer centre-forward Tommy Taylor, big Yorkshire centre-half Mark Jones, silver-streak outside-left David Pegg, reserve left-back Geoff Bent, cheeky right-half Eddie Colman, and Eire international inside-right Billy Whelan.

Out of 44 people aboard, 21 had perished, with two more to die later of their injuries. The victims included three United officials and several sportswriters, including former England goalkeeper Frank Swift. Ten United players survived: Duncan Edwards, Bobby Charlton, Harry Gregg, Bill Foulkes, Albert Scanlon, Jackie Blanchflower, Dennis Viollett, John Berry, Ken Morgans and Ray Wood.

Morgans, at 18 the youngest of the Babes, was rescued two hours after the crash, when hope of finding any more survivors had been abandoned. A reporter saw something move among fragments of charred luggage, and it turned out to be young Ken, unconscious but still alive.

Many of the survivors were fighting for life. Matt Busby lay near death in an oxygen tent, with massive chest injuries and a punctured lung resulting from crushed ribs.Doctors did not have much hope of saving him, and he was given the last rites by a Roman Catholic priest.
Drifting in and out of consciousness, the Scottish miner's son from Orbiston, Lanarkshire, sensed that something terrible had befallen his beloved Babes. But the doctors and nurses told him nothing.

There was serious concern over 21-year old Duncan Edwards, the attacking wing-half whose breathtaking skills had taken him into the United team at 16, and into the England squad just two years later.
He had several broken bones, but his kidneys had also been crushed, and a dialysis machine was flown from England to treat him.

United had hoped to return home in triumph. Instead, many came home in coffins aboard a BEA Viscount, which touched down at Ringway on a freezing night four days after the crash.

An estimated 100,000 people lined the route in silence as a convoy of hearses purred through the darkened streets. Many of the crowd were in tears, and sobbing women knelt on the damp pavements as the cortege passed.
Youngsters wearing United rosettes edged in black wept openly at the roadside, as they clutched pictures of their favourite players.

Many of the victims were buried in their home towns over the next few days. And on the Saturday after the crash, football crowds all over Britain stood in silence before the kick-off in tribute to the Busby Babes.

In Munich, Duncan Edwards underwent an operation, as his mother and father and 22 year-old fiancé Molly Leech kept a vigil at the hospital.
Professor George Maurer, head of the hospital, reported: "Yesterday, when he was only semi-conscious, he seemed to imagine he was still playing, and once said 'Goal, goal'."

But the boy whose genius was stamped for ever on the face of British soccer would never play again. He died two weeks after the crash, soon after co-pilot Ken Rayment. In all, 23 people were dead.

They tried to keep the news from Matt Busby as long as possible, as the tough ex-footballer who had played for Manchester City and Scotland, amazed doctors by recovering from his critical condition.
He remembers the moment when he was well enough to speak to his wife Jean. "I said, 'What happened?'. She said nothing. So I began to go through the names. She didn't speak at all. She didn't even look at me."

"When they were gone, she just shook her head. Dead, dead, dead, dead, dead, dead, dead, dead."

Devastated by the loss of the team he had nurtured to glory, Busby swore he was finished with soccer.
"Well, Matt, just please yourself", said his wife. "But the boys who have died would have wanted you to carry on."

And carry on he did. Gradually, the United team was rebuilt, boosted by players like Denis Law and George Best.

In 1965 and 1967 they were League Champions, and in 1968 they beat Benfica 4-1 at Wembley to become the first English team to win the European Cup. Bobby Charlton scored two goals, and fellow-survivor Bill Foulkes was also in the side.

Ten years on, it eased the private agony which had haunted Busby ever since the crash.
"That moment when Bobby Charlton took the Cup, it, well…it cleansed me", he said."It eased the pain of the guilt of going into Europe. It was my justification."

Some people swear they saw Matt Busby cry that day. A dream he thought had died with the Busby Babes in the snows of Munich, had finally come true after all.

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