MANCHESTER, England/MUNICH (Reuters) - Thousands of people turned out for memorial ceremonies in Manchester and Munich on Tuesday to mark the 60th anniversary of the air disaster which killed eight of the Manchester United team of the day.
The eight players, stars in a glory-chasing side known as the Busby Babes, were among 23 people killed when the plane carrying them home from a European Cup match in Belgrade crashed in wintry weather during a refuelling stop at the Munich-Riem Airport on Feb.6, 1958.
Three club staff members, eight journalists, two crew members and two other passengers also died.
In a poignant echo of the treacherous conditions that prevailed that day, heavy snow fell at United’s Old Trafford ground as Sir Bobby Charlton, 80, and Harry Gregg, 85, - players who both survived the crash - joined the club’s current first team, manager Jose Mourinho and thousands of fans in a tribute to the victims.
Former manager Sir Alex Ferguson, club director Michael Edelson and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward all delivered readings, before a minute’s silence was held at 1504 GMT - the time of the crash.
“It was very fitting. A beautiful service. Powerful, emotional,” club captain Michael Carrick told MUTV. “For me, it was emotional sitting next to Sir Bobby and coming to terms with what he’s been through. It was tough but a pleasure to be part of.”
In Munich, club ambassador Denis Irwin joined an estimated 3,000 United fans for a ceremony and a two-minute silence at the scene of the crash. Two commemorative plaques were also unveiled, British media reported.
“Unbelievable support here from young and old. I know the fans make an annual pilgrimage, but they’ve made a special effort this year and it’s great to see them pay their respects,” Irwin said.
Wreaths were also laid at the Partizan Stadium in Belgrade, where United had played Red Star Belgrade the day before the crash.
United, known as the ‘Busby Babes’ after manager Sir Matt Busby, were one of the most successful sides in Europe at the time of the disaster: they had just qualified for the semifinals of the European Cup and were chasing a third consecutive league title at home at the time of the crash.
Seven of the ‘Babes’ - Geoff Bent, Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor and Billy Whelan - died at the scene, while the prodigiously talented 21-year-old Duncan Edwards succumbed to his injuries 15 days later.
Gregg, the team’s goalkeeper, escaped the crash with only minor injuries but returned to the wreckage to pull other survivors to safety, including teammates Dennis Violett and Charlton and his badly hurt manager Busby.
Gregg continued playing but left United in 1966, while Charlton also resumed his career and formed part of Busby’s rebuilt side, which won the European Cup in 1968.
Two German-led inquiries initially blamed the captain of the plane for the crash but a subsequent British investigation cleared him of wrongdoing and concluded slush on the runway had been the cause.
Reporting by Matt Westby; Editing by Richard Balmforth