Manchester United in 1957
The Munich air disaster: a timeline
The timeline looks at some of the key moments in the story of the Munich air disaster, how the tragedy unfolded on the day and what happened in the aftermath.
Tuesday 22 October 1957
The Busby Babes' 4-0 Charity Shield drubbing of Aston Villa, coupled with the fact that they’d recorded their largest ever goal and points tallies the season before, leads to speculation that the team can win an unprecedented league, FA Cup and European Cup treble.
Duncan Edwards and Yugoslav journalists (04/02/58)
Wednesday 4 December
United face Dukla Prague away in the European Cup - they lose the tie, but win on aggregate. Delays in their return journey mean they nearly miss their clash with Everton the following Saturday. The problems lead to a decision to charter a plane for the next away tie, versus Red Star Belgrade.
Tuesday 14 January 1958
United beat Red Star Belgrade 2-1 at Old Trafford in the home leg of their second round tie.
Monday 3 February
The Manchester United party board the flight from Manchester to Belgrade. The route is arranged via Munich both ways for refuelling, as a direct route is out of range for the aeroplane.
The team line-up for the game (05/02/58)
A few hours later, they arrive to find low cloud, poor visibility and snow. Conditions are at the minimum allowed by British European Airways (their flight operator) for pilots to land in. Indeed, the weather is so bad that the airport engineer only realises the plane has landed when it taxis on to the parking apron.
Wednesday 5 February
United draw 3-3 with Red Star Belgrade and go through to the European Cup Semi Finals for the second year running. After the game, a cocktail party for the players is held at the British Embassy.
The wreckage of the crash (07/02/58)
Thursday 6 February
The travelling party, plus an extra five people - including the wife and baby daughter of the Yugoslav air attaché in London – departs Belgrade in sunshine for Manchester. The takeoff is delayed for an hour as winger Johnny Berry loses his passport.
A little later, the plane makes its scheduled stop in Munich to refuel, where the airport is shrouded in low cloud, rain and snow. The descent into Munich requires the pilot, Captain James Thain, to use the anti-icing equipment on the wings.
On the ground, the Manchester party disembark for refreshments in the terminal building, with some of the players taking the opportunity to snowball the refuelling team.
After completion of departure details, the party return to the aircraft, with the crew stopping to inspect the wings. As a precaution, de-icing fluid could be sprayed onto the wings or snow brushed clear, but they decide that is unnecessary under the circumstances.
The wreckage of the crash (07/02/58)
At 2.20pm GMT, just over an hour after arrival, the plane is cleared for take-off. However, an uneven tone in the engines alarms Captain Thain and his co-pilot, Captain Kenneth Rayment, causing them to abort the take-off.
The pair decide to try again, but the second take-off is aborted for the same reason, described by Captain Thain to his passengers as a "slight engine fault" which would require them to return to the apron for an engine check.
Everybody disembarks again, and on returning to the departure lounge, United’s star player Duncan Edwards sends a telegram to his landlady - "All flights cancelled. Flying home tomorrow. Duncan." Unexpectedly, the call to board the flight is made and the party re-embark.
Albert Scanlon in hospital (09/02/58)
At 3.04pm, a third take-off is attempted. The plane fails to gain height and crashes into the fence surrounding the airport and then into a house. The port wing and part of the tail is torn off and the house catches fire. A tree shatters the port side of the cockpit, while the starboard side of the fuselage hits a wooden hut, causing a truck filled with tyres and fuel parked inside to explode.
By the time any emergency services arrive at the site, 21 people are dead - including seven players, eight journalists, the travel agent who had organised the trip and a fan that was travelling with the team. After two hours, the search for survivors is called off, only for a German journalist to discover Kenny Morgans amongst the wreckage some five hours after the crash.
The survivors are taken to Rechts der Isar Hospital in Munich. Amongst them are Albert Scanlon, who will remain unconscious for three weeks, star striker Bobby Charlton, who has suffered slight head injuries, and Johnny Berry and Jackie Blanchflower, whose injuries will mean they would never play again.
Matt Busby in hospital after the crash
Manager Matt Busby has suffered fractured ribs, a punctured lung and leg injuries. His condition is so grave that the last rites are administered and a hospital statement says simply that "we do not have much hope of saving him".
Friday 7 February onwards
The bodies of the deceased are flown home and lie overnight in the gym at Old Trafford before being collected by the families. Thousands turn out to line the streets for the funerals, memorial services are held all over the country and two minutes' silence is observed at matches everywhere.
United take on Sheffield Wednesday (19/02/58)
There is speculation that the club will fold as they may not be able to complete the season’s fixtures or rebuild their shattered team.
Wednesday 19 February
There is news that Matt Busby has received the last rites for a second time, while Duncan Edwards and the co-pilot Kenneth Rayment are both worsening by the day.
Despite that, a makeshift United 11 takes on Sheffield Wednesday in an emotional FA Cup fifth-round tie.
The front cover of the match programme reads "United will go on" and on the team sheet, there are 11 blank spaces to fill in. Busby calls his assistant Jimmy Murphy from his hospital bed to tell him to "keep the flag flying". United win 3-0.
Duncan Edwards' is flown home (22/02/58)
Friday 21 February
Duncan Edwards dies from his injuries. A week later, Ken Rayment also succumbs, bringing the final death toll to 23.
Thankfully, Matt Busby stabilises and as his condition improves, he is sent to Interlaken in Switzerland to recuperate with his wife, Jean.
Saturday 8 March
A message from the stricken manager is played ahead of United’s home game. The News of the World reports that "women wept as the tape-recorded voice of Matt Busby echoed across a packed and silent Old Trafford".
Bobby Charlton at the FA Cup Final (03/05/58)
Friday 18 April
Matt Busby returns to Manchester for the first time, 71 days after the crash. He makes the journey from Switzerland by rail and sea.
Saturday 3 May
Despite the devastation of the season, under the leadership of Jimmy Murphy, United have made it to the FA Cup Final, where they play Bolton Wanderers. It is Murphy that leads the team out, while Matt Busby makes his way slowly to the bench with the aid of a walking stick. The team wear shirts emblazoned with a phoenix rising from the flames.
Despite a valiant effort, the game is a step too far for the still recovering side and they lose 2-0.
United v AC Milan in the European Cup (08/05/58)
Thursday 8 May
United beat AC Milan in the home leg of their European Cup Semi Final 2-1.
Wednesday 14 May
AC Milan beat United 4-0 at the San Siro Stadium to knock them out of the European Cup.
UEFA offer the FA the opportunity to enter United in the competition for the following season as a tribute to the players and officials who lost their lives. The FA decline, choosing to enter only the league champions, Wolverhampton Wanderers, as normal.
last updated: 19/03/2008 at 15:26