British soccer received the most tragic blow in its history yesterday when the Elizabethan airliner bringing back Manchester United from their European Cup match with the Red Star club in Belgrade crashed at Munich airport at the third attempt to take off.
Early this morning it was known that there were 23 survivors of the 44 people on board the aircraft. Among those killed are four players, the trainer and chief coach, seven of Britain’s best-known sports reporters, a passenger and a member of the crew.
Three players, the club secretary, a reporter and a passenger are not accounted for.
Matt Busby, the manager of the team, has “little chance of survival”, according to a doctor at a Munich hospital. The doctor said that all the other survivors at the hospital, who include Jackie Blanchflower, the Irish international, had a “fair chance of recovery”.
Last night, sympathy was expressed by the Queen, President Tito of Yugoslavia, and by leading figures in the game throughout the world.
At the plane’s third attempt to take off, watchers heard the engine “rev” up, and saw it start forward. Their looks turned to horror as the airliner failed to leave the ground, crashed into a fence, crumpled a wing against an airport building and caught fire. The plane split in two. As survivors struggled from the wreckage, fire broke out.
As messages of sympathy poured in last night, Mr A Hardaker, secretary of the Football League, announced that Manchester United’s league game with Wolverhampton Wanderers this Saturday would be postponed.
The rest of the league will go on – though in mourning for their dead comrades. Two minutes’ silence will precede the kick-off at all League grounds, where flags will be at half-mast and players will wear black armbands.