On February 6th 1958, a plane carrying Manchester United players crashed in heavy snow at Munich Airport.
23 people died as a result of the disaster, including eight of ‘Busby’s Babes’ in what is one of sports greatest tragedies.
The Manchester Munich Memorial Foundation (MMMF) was set up to preserve the legacy of the Disaster and ensure that the story is told to fans of future generations.
The foundation raises charitable donations that will support charities in Munich, Manchester and Belgrade.
On Tuesday, the website posted a detailed account given to them by a survivor of the plane crash.
Nebojša Bato Tomašević was a Yugoslavia diplomat at the time and was on board the plane in Munich. He survived the crash and later died in 2017.
“At the time of Munich’s tragedy Bato studied English at Exeter University in England. There he met his future wife Madge Phillips.
At the time when the travel agent Bela Mikloš, a political emigrant from Hungary, came for MU football players’ visas, because they travelled to Belgrade for the EC match against Red Star, in the National Security’s Center in Belgrade, Bata’s request to marry an Englishwoman and to stay in diplomatic serve was being resolved.
When the Hungarian emigrant Bela Mikloš was asking for some young officer from the embassy to come with MU team and to be their road leader, Bata accepted with pleasure in order to visit Belgrade.
My conversation in the Ministry wasn’t finished with success… The rules are, they have told me, that I have to choose between a job and marriage. And for exceptions they are only for bigger officers like Ambassadors but that was only the Tito’s decision.
After the match in some “kafana” (restaurant) in Skadarlija street the host has prepared the festive dinner. There, with great food, drinks and music everybody was in the great mood. The guests from England had an early flight to Manchester and in some moment they had to leave to the new hotel Majestic.
The hosts have stayed in Skadarlija until dawn… At 5 AM Bata went home to pack and to say goodbye to his family.
In the morning, Bata said, the small restaurant at the Airport was full of people. The local newspaperman raced around MU football players and Matt Busby to get the last information about the match and impressions of Belgrade until they went to Manchester.
At one table in the corner Bela Mikloš, his wife and me sat… He was delighted and touched by kindness and warmness which they came across in Belgrade. He felt again spirit of Budapest, his Hungary, so close but so far away and unattainable. When Hungarian gipsy music, so familiar and so close to him, started to play in Skadarlija, tears streamed down his face.
Flight to Munich went quietly without the usual twitching and decay. I was sitting beside the window and for the first time I saw the Austrian Alps covered with snow. I started to think about my trip to Belgrade, what had I achieved? Nothing! I was more confused than before living in London. It remains that I have to make a crucial decision and to make choice between the woman I love and alluring diplomatic services .
Flying fortress has landed without any problems at the Munich Airport to pick up the fuel. And when the stewardess asked them to get into the plane and to continue the flight to Manchester”, Bata remembered, the heavy snow was falling down and the landscape was all in white.
Just before the plane took off the noise from the engine at once decreased just like when the machines lost its power. There was braking, sliding and very painful stopping. Pilot has apologized and asked to get out of the plane and get back to the airport restaurant.
Some 10 min later we went back to the airplane because, as the pilot said, everything was under control and ready for takeoff.
But our second takeoff was exactly the same like the first one. Airplane started, increased its speed, and just when it was supposed to take off the large roar of the engine was lost again. The pilot started to brake, the airplane was sliding on the wet surface, enthralled and finally stopped at the end of the runway. It seems that everyone was relieved when the captain asked us to get into the restaurant again until the airplane malfunction gets fixed.
The third call was just few minutes later. I thought what malfunction could be fixed so fast.
For the third time we were preparing to takeoff. I looked at my watch . It was exactly 3 PM. I’ve noticed that some passengers has changed their seats. There was tension and expectations. The engines started working, the propellers rotating, scattering the snow that was falling heavily with large snowflakes. The steward Tommy and I looked at each other at the same time. In a split second I wished another drink. He said unexpectedly to swap seats. We did it quickly.
I was sitting on his seat, nailed to the cockpit with my back and clearly saw the faces of the passengers. The plane started moving on the runway, slowly, and then faster and faster, the engines boosted power and there we are, finally in the air!
Suddenly the engines noise has changed and we were started falling down… That falling, I found that later, was exactly 54 seconds. For me it was like the whole my life from birth to death.
I remember that I was trying to stand up from the seat, but the speed and inertia weren’t allowing me to. The lights went out. In the darkness suitcases and bags were hitting us and falling down on our heads. I was protecting myself as much as I could and then I lost my conscience.
I regained consciousness from being hit on the ground. I was trying to realize what’s going on, am I still alive. I was trying to stand up. Still I was tied to the seat with which the explosion threw me 150 m away. Somehow I succeeded to get untied, to set free my knees from something metallic that was around them. When I finally stood up I didn’t have any clothes on me, even the shoes. With my hand I tried to wipe out the blood from my eyes which flowed from the cut eyebrows and prevented me from seeing.
From the injured lip and broken front teeth my mouth was filled with blood. With great difficulty I spat it out trying not to suffocate. I was moving harder and harder, the pain and the loss of blood was getting bigger. And then, who knows why, I remembered my fathers advice to his terrified children at the beginning of the war… “If you, my children, at some accidental event get wounded in the war, run when the wound is still warm, because when it cools down you won’t be able to.”
Wounds have cooled down, I couldn’t run anymore, I didn’t even know where to. I was standing still, mute and powerless to do anything, terrified by the sight. In front of my legs there was broken lifeless steward Tommy’s body with whom I swapped places just a few moments before takeoff. I didn’t pay my drink, I thought at the moment, like I had rebuked myself for it. I recognized him by his uniform.
After a while Bata saw Bela Miklos’s lifeless body. Later he found that in the accident eight famous Busby babies lost their lives, the eight most famous newspaperman and seven members of the MU club management.
The pilot who wanted to takeoff at any costs was crowded in the cockpit as the fire approached. In an attempt to save him they had to cut off his legs with the firefighter’s axe, but he died soon after.
The next month Bata Tomašević spent in the hospital “Rechts der Isar” in the room with Bobby Charlton, Dennis Viollet, Ray Wood and Albert Scanlon.
“When Bata went to England he got married with his fiancé Madge. They have had two daughters and four grandchildren. After a while he has wrote a book on 700 pages, a some kind of autobiography. In that book he described the Munich tragedy with lots of details. The book was published in Yugoslavia, England, Germany, France, Denmark, Norway, Holland, China, Japan and Poland.
Bata said that he was better paid then Bobby Charlton at that moment. Bobby had £12.50 per week and Bata had £17 per week in the Yugoslav embassy.”