Crash of the Busby Babes

When Karl Kainer blew the final whistle on the quarter final away leg between Red Star Belgrade and Manchester United on 5th. February 1958, all the spectators thought it had been a dramatic game, with ups and downs for both sides and a happy and deserved winner. Manchester United had won the first home leg 2:1 and at half time were already looking a certain winner. Denis Viollet put the Red Devils ahead. A double strike from Sir Bobby Charlton extended the lead to 3:0. But after half-time Belgrade got back into the game. Two goals from Bora Kostic and a penalty from Lasar Tasić in the first thirteen minutes of the second half generated high excitement in the frozen Partisan stadium in Belgrade. Pure high drama footbal was announced , but to the great relief of the travelling United fans, there were no more goals and Manchester United went through to the semi final, to set about removing Real Madrid from the throne of european football.

Sixteen hours later tragedy struck, which shows that football is the most beautiful accessory in the world and that real life hits you harder than any last minute knock out goal as in Barcelona in 1999. BEA flight 609 went out at 15:03, following a refuelling stop in Munich, to start its last attempt to take off. Flight Captain James Thain and co-pilot Ken Rayment had detected abnormal pressure in both engines on the two previous attempts at take off and had aborted both. The team left the plane and it was checked over. Everything seemed in order, both passengers and crew went back on board. The third attempt at take off ended in a crash. The Airspeed AS 57 suffered a sudden loss of speed. The speed was too low for take off and the runway too short to pull up. The plane burst through the perimiter fencing and crashed into a house. The cockpit struck a tree and the port side of the plane’s rear hit a wharehouse with a lorry, petrol and tyres in it, causing it all to explode.

The hero of the day was Northern Ireland`s goalkeeper Harry Gregg: he pulled the pregnant Vera Lukić and her daughter Venona from the wreckage and then went back for his team mates Bobby Charlton and Dennis Violett.

The loud bang from the crash of the “Lord Barleigh” wrenched the local people of Trudering in the vicinity of the airport from their every day lives: among those who rushed to the scene of the crash to help were Ernst Weber, the owner of the devastated land and garden centre, together with Hans Wieser, a local farmer. They began immediately to help and gained precious time. Shortly thereafter the volunteer fire brigade from Kirchtrudering arrived and fought the flames. There was no airport fire brigade, although the airport was in the middle of a residential area. Matthias Emrich, a local furniture store owner, immediately converted his transporter into a field ambulance and assisted in the recovery of the injured, before they were taken to the hospital Rechts der Isar. Here Prof. Dr. Georg Maurer and his team of fifty doctors fought without tiring for the lives of the players, the manager and the accompanying group of officials, journalists and fans. Duncan Edwards died, after a weeks long struggle to save his life, as the last victim of this tragedy. Many other lives were saved, including Sir Bobby Charlton and the manager Sir Matt Busby.

This unrestricted willingness to help demostrated that, despite the still present memory of two world wars and their atrocities, humanity won out and many lives were saved. The deep wound, that his tragedy seared into the memory of many Britons, helped to begin to heal old wounds and for a new time to begin

Sadly twenty-three people died in and from the plane crash:

Manchester United players

  • Geoff Bent
  • Roger Byrne
  • Eddie Colman
  • Duncan Edwards (initially survived the crash, but died of his injuries fifteen days later in hospital)
  • Mark Jones
  • David Pegg
  • Tommy Taylor
  • Liam „Billy“ Whelan

Further crash victims

  • Walter Crickmer – Club Secretary at Manchester United
  • Bert Whalley – chief assistant to Matt Busby
  • Tom Curry – trainer with Manchester United
  • Alf Clarke – reporter with the Manchester Evening Chronicle
  • Don Davies – reporter with the Manchester Guardian
  • George Follows – reporter with the Daily Herald
  • Tom Jackson – reporter with the Manchester Evening News
  • Archie Ledbrooke – reporter with the Daily Mirror
  • Henry Rose – reporter with the Daily Express
  • Eric Thompson – reporter with the Daily Mail
  • Frank Swift – reporter with the News of the World, as well as previously goalkeeper for England and player for von Manchester City
  • Kenneth „Ken“ Rayment – co-pilot (initially survived the accident, but died three weeks later from his extensive injuries, particularly those to his head.)
  • Bela Miklos – travel agent, who had organised the flight
  • Willie Satinoff – fan of the club, race course owner and close friend of Matt Busby
  • Tom Cable – flight steward

Thanks to the involvement of the people of Trudering and to the doctors the following survived:

Manchester United players

  • Johnny Berry († 1994)
  • Jackie Blanchflower († 1998)
  • Dennis Viollet († 1999)
  • Ray Wood († 2002)
  • Bobby Charlton
  • Bill Foulkes († 2013)
  • Harry Gregg
  • Kenny Morgans († 2012)
  • Albert Scanlon († 2009)

Other survivors:

  • Matt Busby – Manager Manchester United († 1994)
  • Frank Taylor – journalist († 2002)
  • James Thain – flight captain († 1975)
  • George (Bill) Rodgers – radio officer († 1997)
  • Peter Howard – photographer († 1996)
  • Margaret Bellis – stewardess († 1990er)
  • Ted Ellyard – photographer
  • Vera Lukić and daughter Venona – passengers
  • Mrs Miklos – wife of Bela Miklos
  • Nebojsa Bato Tomašević – passenger

The survivors were treated in the hospital Rechts der Isar. Duncan was the last to die, after a weeks long battle with his injuries.

The shock ran deep, all of England football was in mourning. Manchester United played to the end of the season but did not win another league game. Football showed again that it really is insignificant.

And yet 6th. February 1958 and the tragedy of the Busby Babes was the momemt a singular spirit was born, that since then has enveloped and made them to one of the finest football clubs in the world.

Matt Busby built a new team around Sir Bobby Charlton. Success returned to Old Trafford with the FA Cup triumph in 1693 and in 1968 culminated in winning the European Cup, the crown denied them in 1958.

But it is just football. It should remain the most beautiful accessory in life, but only that, an accessory.

Wir werden nie vergessen – We will never forget!

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