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Manchester United Plane Disaster - 1958 One of the great sports tragedies of the twentieth century was the Munich Air Disaster. It occurred on February 6, 1958, when British European Airways Flight 609 crashed on its third attempt to take off from a slush-covered runway at Munich-Riem Airport in Munich, West Germany. On board the plane was the glamorous Manchester United football team, nicknamed the "Busby Babes" (after manager Matt Busby), along with a few supporters and sports journalists. Twenty of the 44 people on board the aircraft died instantly in the crash. The injured, some of whom had been knocked unconscious, were taken to the Rechts der Isar Hospital in Munich where three more died, resulting in a total of 23 fatalities with 21 survivors. The team was returning from a European Cup match in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, against Red Star Belgrade, but had to make a stop in Munich to refuel the aircraft. After refuelling, the pilots, Captains James Thain and Kenneth Rayment, attempted to take off twice, but had to abandon both attempts due to boost surging in the port engine. Fearing that they would get too far behind schedule, Captain Thain rejected an overnight stay in Munich in favour of a third take-off attempt. By the time of the third attempt, it had begun to snow, causing a layer of slush to build up at the end of the runway. When the aircraft hit the slush, it lost velocity, making take-off impossible. It plowed through a fence past the end of the runway, before the port wing hit a nearby house and was torn off. Fearing that the aircraft might explode, Captain Thain set about getting the surviving passengers as far away as possible. Despite this threat, Manchester United goalkeeper Harry Gregg remained behind to pull survivors from the wreckage. An investigation by West German airport authorities originally blamed Captain Thain for the crash, claiming that he had failed to deice the wings of the aircraft, despite statements to the contrary from eyewitnesses. It was later established that the crash had, in fact, been caused by the build-up of slush on the runway, which had resulted in the aircraft being unable to achieve take-off velocity. Accordingly Thain's name was eventually cleared in 1968--a decade after the incident. At the time of the disaster, Manchester United were trying to become only the third club to win three successive English league titles; they were six points behind League leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers with 14 games to go. They were also holders of the Charity Shield and had just advanced into their second successive European Cup semi-final. The team was also on an 11-match unbeaten run, and had advanced to the Fifth Round of the FA Cup tournament two weeks before the crash. Real Madrid won the European Cup in 1958, but team officials generously offered to have Manchester United declared the winners. This plan was not approved by UEFA, however. Manchester United did win the European Cup ten years later. Two of the survivors from 1958 were on that 1968 team.
Tags: soccer  Manchester  United  disaster  airplane 
Added: 7th June 2012
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Posted By: Lava1964
Posted by: Lava1964 on 2012-06-07 
Given all the transcontinental flights necessary in North American pro sports, it's actually surprising that no major pro sports on this side of the Atlantic team has been involved in a similar tragedy. (Knock on wood!)
Posted by: Steve on 2012-06-07 
It is amazing how safe both air travel and cars have become.
Posted by: Lava1964 on 2012-06-07 
Agreed. A traveller is safer in the air than on the ground. I recall the Albany River Rats of the American Hockey League were involved in a bus crash a couple of years ago.

Having said that, the national soccer team of Zambia was wiped out in an air crash aout a decade ago. The US amateur boxing team was killed in a plane carsh in 1980. The US figure skating team was killed in a plane crash in 1961.

The Munich Air Disaster is remembered ahead of all others, though. In the United States it would be the equivalent of the Super Bowl or World Series champs perishing in a plane crash today.
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