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The Flowers of Munich

Munich Air Disaster 6th Feb 1958 as told by Harry Gregg

Manchester United players and officials boarding their plane at Ringway Airport bound for Belgrade. Left to Right: Walter Crickmer, Frank Swift, Albert Scanlon, Ray Wood, Dennis Viollet, Geoff Bent, Liam Whelan, Mark Jones, Harry Gregg, Ken Morgans.
Manchester United players and officials boarding their plane at
Ringway Airport bound for Belgrade.
Left to Right: Walter Crickmer, Frank Swift, Albert Scanlon, Ray Wood,
Dennis Viollet, Geoff Bent, Liam Whelan, Mark Jones,
Harry Gregg, Ken Morgans.

The captain told everyone to run for it, because the stricken aircraft was likely to explode, but Harry Gregg heard the cry of a child. The Manchester United goalkeeper crawled back in among the wreckage to rescue the baby and then returned for the mother. He stayed to help the others and this is his story of the fateful day on that terrible winter's afternoon of February the 6th, 1958.

We landed at Munich for a refuelling stop. It was snowing slightly and there were footprints in the snow as we made our way into the terminal. We got back on and there was nothing untoward as we set off down the runway.

I watched the telescopic leg of the wheel on my side extend as we went towards lift-off. I watched the wheel lock and unlock with the plane swerving about a little bit.

Then the aircraft stopped and someone came on to say we would be going back to make another attempt. I just supposed it was a technical hitch.

We set off again, going a little bit further this time. It was like a speedboat at sea with a bow wave as the snow got deeper. We pulled up again and it was quite unnerving.
This time they said we would be going back into the terminal and the party would disembark.

In less than five minutes we were called back on and we boarded again. I watched the steward belting himself in and I thought it was perhaps more serious than I had realised. So I made a point of getting well down in my seat, undid my collar and tie, and put my feet on the chair in front.

I was reading a book which wasn't too kind to the way I had been brought up so I put it down. I thought if I get killed reading a book like that I'Il go to hell which was the way of life in those days.

I kept watching the wheels and I thought we were away this time because we were going past places I had not seen before. I couldn't see the fence because you can't see ahead from inside a plane. I thought we had lifted until all of a sudden there was this horrendous noise. It felt as if everything was upside down, one minute daylight the next darkness, with an awful sound of tearing, ripping, smoke and flames.

THUMP

The first thump I got was on the back of the head, then on the front of my head. I felt something going up my nose and I just didn't know what was going on. I had not long joined Manchester United, I was married and had one child, and in my simple mind I thought I had done well for the first time in my life and that I wouldn't see my wife, little girl and parents again. I also worried that I couldn't speak German, why I thought that I have no idea. Everything seemed to be in slow motion.

All of a sudden it all stopped. There was nothing but darkness and I thought it must be hell because of the blackness. I just lay there for a while and felt the blood running down my face. I was afraid to reach up for fear of what I would find.

Then I realised I couldn't be dead. There was some burning and sparks from wires. Above me to the right was a hole and daylight. I started to crawl towards it and in the darkness went over one or two people. I looked out of the hole and directly below me was lying Bert Whalley, the team coach wearing an air force blue suit. His eyes were wide open and he hadn't a mark on him.

RUNNING

Front cover of the original Red Star programme for their European Cup quarter-final against Manchester United
Front cover of the original Red Star programme for their
European Cup quarter-final against Manchester United

I made the hole bigger and dropped down beside Bert. In the distance I could see five people running through the snow and shouting run, run, it's going to explode. I just stood there. I think the fear factor had gone, I really don't know, but from around what was left of the cockpit came the pilot, Captain Thain, and he also shouted run, you stupid fool, it's going to explode, and ran back the way he had come.

Just then I heard a child crying and I shouted there are people still alive in here. I crawled back in terrified of what I was going to find. I found the child under a pile of rubbish and crawled out. The Radio Operator came back and I gave him the child. I went back in and found the mother. She was in a shocking state and I had to literally kick her through the hole to send her on her way. I found Ray Wood and was sure he was dead, I couldn't get him out. I saw Albert Scanlon and he looked even worse. I tried to drag him out but he was trapped by the feet and I had to put him down.

I got out and went round the back of the aircraft where I found Bobby Charlton and Dennis Viollet hanging half in and half out of the stump of the plane. I dragged them clear by the waistbands of their trousers and left them about 15 yards away.

I got round the other side and at that point realised how bad it was with the rest of the plane sticking out of what I later learned was a fuel store and it was on fire. Between that and the part of the plane I had come out of was the Boss. He was sitting up on his elbows with his hands across his chest and moaning a terrible "Aargh." He had a bad cut behind his ear and one of his feet was bent back the wrong way but he didn't look too bad compared with what I had seen. I thought I could leave him. I put something behind him to support his back and said "You're OK Boss."


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