Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Munich Air Disaster Remembered

Amidst the memorial services to mark Wednesday's 50th anniversary of the Munich air disaster, for survivor Sir Bobby Charlton the memories of that fateful day are never far from his thoughts.

At 1504 local time on Wednesday, exactly 50 years since BEA Elizabethan airliner G-ALZU crashed in heavy snow trying to take off from Munich airport, the 23 people in the diasaster who lost their lives will be remembered.

Amongst the eight first-team players, plus 15 backroom staff and journalists who perished in Munich was England international Duncan Edwards, hailed as one of the greatest players of his generation.

While the media focus will be on Manchester United's Old Trafford ground where a day of memorial is planned, the survivors' thoughts will be at the scene of the crash in southern Bavaria.

For Sir Bobby, who was just 20 years old and was returning with the team after beating Red Star Belgrade to reach the European Cup's semi-finals, his thoughts are sure to be in Munich where his life changed forever.

"When we landed in Munich the weather was as bad as I had ever seen it," Charlton wrote in his autobiography My Manchester United Years.

"By the third attempt at take-off, I was suddenly conscious of the silence inside the plane.

"Outside, the snowy field flew by, but not quickly enough it seemed.

"There was an awful noise, the grind of metal on metal. Then there was the void.

"When I came to, I was on the ground, outside the wrecked plane, but still strapped into my seat.

"I saw the bodies in the snow, though one small and passing mercy was that I didn?t recognise among the dead one of my closest friends, Eddie Colman.

"I woke the next morning in a hospital ward and in a nearby bed was a young German, looking at a newspaper.

"He was reading about the crash and read out the names and then, after a short pause, said, 'Dead'.

"It was as though my life was being taken away, piece by piece.

But having suffered a punctured lung in the Munich disaster, Edwards died of his injuries 15 days later and was described by Charlton, who eventually won 106 caps for England and scored 49 goals, as "the only player that made me feel inferior".

Charlton visited Edwards, who was 22 when he died and had been capped by England as a teenager, in the hospital and the experience has never left him.

"Duncan was in obvious pain when I visited him, but his spirit was still as strong as ever," said Charlton.

"I felt my eyes smart while wondering all over again how it could be that this young giant of the game was so stricken while I could prepare to walk down the stairs before packing for home.

Charlton will join the last survivors of the squad - Albert Scanlon, Harry Gregg, Bill Foulkes and Kenny Morgans - at a memorial ceremony at Old Trafford which coincides with the service in Munich.


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