Sunday, February 3, 2008

Remembering The Munich Air Disaster

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 keeper 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 6th, 1958.

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.

The first thump I got was on the back of the head, then on the front of my head. 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.

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."

I went another 20 yards and found Jackie Blanchflower. The snow was melting around him because of the heat and the burning part of the aircraft. He was crying out that he had broken his back and was paralysed. I looked and saw Roger Byrne lying across him and I don't think Jackie had realised that it was Roger's body which was holding him down. Roger didn't have a mark on him. He was a handsome fellow, handsome in life and handsome in death. I kept talking to "Blanchy." His right arm was almost severed and I took my tie off to tie round his arm. I pulled so hard I broke it. I looked up and one of the stewardesses was standing there. I asked her to get something to tie his arm with but the poor girl was in shock, so just used what was left of my tie.

People came from across the fields, ordinary people, not rescue people. I didn't see any of those at all. Eventually a Volkswagen arrived which was a coal van. Jackie was put into it, also Johnny Berry who I didn't even recognise as a player until I saw the badge on his blazer. Myself Billy Foulkes and Dennis Viollet were also put in and we were driven to the hospital. I remember breaking down and crying when we got there and I saw Bobby Charlton, Peter Howard,Ted Ellyard and a big Yugoslav. I was just relieved that there were more of us alive. Some of us were asked to identify people they were working on. Ray Wood was lying on the floor as they attended to his eye.

They gave us a bowl of soup and the Yugoslav collapsed. He just slid down the wall. He had been walking around with a broken leg which suddenly gave way. They started to give us injections. Bobby fainted and so he was kept in hospital. Billy Foulkes, Ted, Peter and I were taken to a hotel where the people looked after us wonderfully. I had to go back to the hospital the next day. I could hardly get out of bed because of my back. They gave me injections to the point where I said that's enough because the injections were worse than the bad back. Jimmy Murphy asked Bill and I to stay for a few days so that those lying in hospital wouldn't realise the Full extent of the accident.

Eventually professor Maurer took Jimmy, Bill and myself round the theatres and would stop at the foot of each bed to tell us their chances of survival. The Boss: Fifty-fifty because he was a strong man, Jackie Blanchflower OK, Duncan fifty-fifty but when he got to little Johnny Berry he whispered, no, no, I am not God. Johnny survived of course but unhappily died a year or two ago.

Duncan Edwards woke up when we went into his room and he asked us: "What time is kick-off?" Quick as a flash Jimmy Murphy told him three o'clock, son. Duncan responded:"Get stuck in." Bill and I came home and I remember about 10 days afterwards all the newspapers in my house kept disappearing. I couldn't figure what was going on until realised they were being hidden from me. Big Duncan had died. I found that hard. It hit me terribly. Yes, that was Munich.

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