THE TRAGEDY OF MUNICH AIRPORT
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.
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".
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".
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....
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.