By Tom Dare
TRAGIC FOOTAGE showing the aftermath of the devastating 1958 air disaster which left 23 people dead, eight of whom played for Manchester United, has resurfaced today on the 60th anniversary of the disaster.
Newsreel footage from the time, taken just moments after the plane came crashing down onto the runway in Munich, captured the snow-covered wreckage of the aircraft, which was returning the Manchester United team, staff and several journalists back to the UK following a successful trip to Belgrade, Serbia (then Yugoslavia) for a European cup fixture.
Further clips from the Newsreel, which would have been shown to American audiences in movie theatres before big premieres, show the streets in Britain on the day after the tragedy, with newspaper vendors selling broadsheets whose front pages read: “United Disaster: Grim Fight for Life.”
Today marks 60 years to the day since the crash which shook British society down to its core.
The United team and staff, managed by the legendary Sir Matt Busby, had flown to Belgrade, Yugoslavia for the second leg of their European Cup quarter final tie with Red Star Belgrade. United had won the first leg 2-1, and earned a respectable 3-3 draw in the return leg to ensure their progress into the semi-final of the cup competition.
The team had chartered a British European Airways plane for the flight home, which stopped in Munich en-route to Manchester to refuel. But weather conditions were poor as the plane attempted to take off from Munich airport, and a fault with one of the engines meant that the pilots twice had to abandon take-off. After the second failed attempt the passengers returned to the airport lounge and, when they returned, heavy snow had begun to fall and ice had begun to build up around the runway.
Despite this the pilots decided to have one last attempt at taking off, and it was this decision which proved fatal. Once again the plane experienced problems with one of its engines and, when the aircraft failed to reach the speed required for a take-off, it began to skid out of control. The aircraft smashed through the fence surrounding the airfield, went skidding across a road and hit a wooden hut filled with gasoline and tyres, which exploded. 21 people survived, including manager Matt Busby and some of the team, though eight players, eight journalists, three members of staff, two crew members and two others were killed in the disaster.
Speaking shortly after recovering from his injuries in hospital, Sir Matt Busby said:
“Resting in Interlaken, Germany was one thing and facing Old Trafford another.
“When I approached the ground and moved over the bridge along which our supporters had squeezed fifty abreast in there tens of thousands to shout for us I could scarcely bear to look.
“I knew the ghosts of the babes would still be there, and there they are still, and they will always be there as long as those who saw them still cross the bridge, young, gay, red ghosts on the green grass of Old Trafford.”