Horror of Munich crash recalled by players 59 years on
MUNICH Air Disaster survivor Harry Gregg has revealed how his friend, Dubliner Liam Whelan, told his Manchester United team-mates that he was prepared to die minutes before he was killed in the plane crash.
The Irish footballer was just 22 when he died in the tragedy that claimed the lives of eight players in 1958.
In a moving BBC documentary to mark the 80th birthday of England World Cup hero Bobby Charlton, former goalkeeper Gregg, now 84, recalled the crash in which 23 died.
Derry man Gregg – known as Hero of the Munich – tells how devout Catholic Whelan had said he was ready to meet his maker as the plane made its third attempt to take off from the slush-filled runway. The team, under inspirational manager Matt Busby, was returning to the UK from a European Cup tie in Belgrade.
‘We started to roll and I was starting to get afraid,’ said Gregg, who went on to win 25 caps with Northern Ireland. ‘Little Johnny Berry, said, “We’re all going to get frigging killed here.”
‘Liam Whelan was a good Catho- lic lad. He said, “Well, if it happens, I’m ready”. I watched the undercarriage go up and next thing I know, it’s darkness and banging and things hitting you.’
The pilots lost control and the plane crashed through a fence and into a farmhouse.
‘We ran into a house and a few other obstacles and it was just a nightmare,’ said Bobby Charlton.
After Gregg regained consciousness, he initially thought he was the only person left alive in the wreckage and kicked his way out of the burning plane. But walking around ‘the stub of a wing’, he said: ‘I found Bobby Charlton and Dennis Viollet lying half in and half out of the aircraft, which was being consumed by fire.
‘I thought they were dead. I pulled them 15, 20 yards away, just grabbed them by the trousers and pulled them through the snow and laid them over a pile of rubbish.’
Charlton, a brother of future Republic of Ireland manager Jack Charlton, recalls waking up about 60 yards from the plane, still strapped to his seat. He said: ‘I didn’t know how that happened. Next to me was Sir Matt (Busby), who was really seriously injured, Dennis Viollet and then Bill Foulkes and Harry Gregg came out of the airplane.
‘If Harry Gregg or Bill Foulkes or anyone had lifted me out, I would just say, “Well, thanks very much,”’ said the English legend, who spoke of the crash with difficulty.
Before his death, Dubliner Liam Whelan had scored 53 goals in 98 first-team appearances with the Red Devils and had four international caps with Ireland.
In the documentary, Jack Charlton also speaks of his horror at reading about the crash on a newspaper stand. He recalled: ‘A woman had said, “There is no survivors”, but behind her came a policeman and he said, “Wait a minute, there is quite a few, and Bobby is one of them.”’
Sir Bobby Charlton At 80 is on BBC1 next Sunday, October 8, at 10.30pm.
Irreplaceable loss: Liam Whelan
Wreckage: eight United players were among the 23 who died