Little Bits of History

February 6

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 6, 2017

1958: British European Airways flight 609 crashes at it attempts to take off. Manchester United football (soccer) team had been playing in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (now Serbia) against Red Star Belgrade. They were flying home in an “Elizabethan” class Airspeed Ambassador. The plane needed to refuel, as the distance between Belgrade and Manchester was beyond its range. They stopped in Munich for this. James Thain, pilot, and Kenneth Rayment, co-pilot attempted takeoff at 14.19 GMT. They aborted takeoff due to issues in the left boost pressure gauge along with an odd sound from the engine. Three minutes later, a second attempt was made and again they had the same issues. They offloaded all the passengers and began to troubleshoot the issues. It began to snow, heavily. There was talk of the plane remaining in Germany for the night, but Thain knew that would put the team behind schedule.

Elizabethan planes had a known issue with the boost surging and it was noted that a slower opening of the throttle could lessen impact. Munich had an exceptionally long runway of about 1.2 miles. This would have been enough space to slow the throttle increase and gain enough momentum for takeoff. Thain made the call to fly. The plane was deiced and the passengers reboarded. They were given clearance for takeoff at 15.02 and agreed to watch instruments carefully. They pulled back on the throttle and began their drive down the runway. They called out speeds at 10-knot increments and had a slight problem at 85 knots. After a quick correction they pushed forward. At 117 knots, Thain called “V1” which meant it was no longer safe to abort takeoff. They were committed. But just at that point, speed began to drop.

The plane skidded at the end of the runway, crashed through a fence, crossed a road, and clipped a house with the left wing, sheering it from the aircraft. Everyone in the house was able to escape safely. Not so, for the passengers of the plane. The plane continued to rip apart. Twenty of the passengers died aboard the plane and three more died later at the hospital. Rayment was trapped in his seat, but Thain was able to escape. As flames crept closer to the engine filled with 500 imperial gallons of fuel, Thain warned everyone away from the soon to explode plane. He grabbed fire extinguishers and attempted to keep the flames from the engine while goalkeeper Harry Gregg regained consciousness inside the plane. He was able to escape and brought out some of the passengers with him.

Two crew members, Rayment and a cabin steward, were killed. Eight of the Manchester United players and three staff members were killed. Eight journalists and two other passengers also perished. Four of the crew survived as did nine footballers, two of whom never played again. Matt Busby, the team manager, survived and was eventually able to rebuild the team. Six other passengers survived. The cause of the crash was at first assumed to be pilot or mechanical error. But the real cause was the runway. Most planes took off with less distance, as the aircraft could have without the problems. But at the end of the runway, slush was accumulating and as they reached this portion just before takeoff, the drag from the slush slowed the aircraft, making takeoff impossible. German authorities took action against Thain, but he was cleared of all charges.

A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water. – Carl Reiner

The snow itself is lonely or, if you prefer, self-sufficient. There is no other time when the whole world seems composed of one thing and one thing only. – Joseph Wood Krutch

Even in winter an isolated patch of snow has a special quality. – Andy Goldsworthy

And finally Winter, with its bitin’, whinin’ wind, and all the land will be mantled with snow. – Roy Bean


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