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Manchester United Munich hero Gregg tells of pain over Colombia air crash

By Jim Gracey

Saddened Manchester United Munich air disaster hero Harry Gregg has spoken of how this week's Colombian plane crash - that claimed the lives of a top Brazilian football team - brought back painful memories of his harrowing 1958 experience.

Former United and Northern Ireland keeper Gregg, now 84, became a national hero and club legend for his bravery in twice plunging back into the burning wreckage of the stricken Manchester United plane to rescue team-mates and fellow passengers in the aftermath of the crash during take-off on the snow-covered runway at Munich.

The catastrophe claimed 23 lives, including eight members of the United team on their way home from a European Cup tie in Belgrade.

To this day, 58 years on, Gregg, now living near Portstewart, finds difficulty talking about the events of that February night.

And he admitted that as he learned from television news of the loss of the Brazilian team Chapecoense in a crash that claimed 71 lives, that he sought solace in a quiet room until a phone call from a Brazilian news organisation ended in tears.

Harry said: "It all came back and I just wanted to be alone with my thoughts.

"I was particularly upset when I heard that the goalkeeper of the team had survived the crash, only to later pass away from his injuries.

"Then my wife told me someone was on the telephone to our house from Brazil, and it was a journalist wanting to talk to me about the crash and about Munich. I understood the reason for the call but didn't want to get into detail. I just said to the caller that I lost a lot of dear friends that day; great team-mates, great players and great staff and others, like my severely-injured pal from our Northern Ireland schools international days, the late Jackie Blanchflower, never played again.

"But I pointed out that many others died on that plane I was fortunate to escape from, including Pressmen and crew. And at that point the Brazilian journalist broke down in tears and said three of his closest colleagues had perished in the crash in Colombia.

"That is why my thoughts go out, not just to the families of the players involved, but to all of those with loved ones on board that aircraft. As one who survived, I feel for all of them."

The story of Gregg's heroism at Munich is synonymous with Manchester United history, even though the man himself steadfastly refuses to see his actions other than what anyone in his position would have done.

"I am not John Wayne, I have never been John Wayne, I don't want to be John Wayne," he said.

Thrown from the plane on impact with a farm building at the end of the snow-bound Munich runway on a third take-off attempt, Gregg ignored any thoughts of making good his own escape to twice return to the burning Elizabethan airliner to begin his rescue efforts.

Gregg dragged Bobby Charlton, Jackie Blanchflower and Dennis Viollet from the wreckage, applying a tourniquet to Blanchflower's almost severed arm, that almost certainly saved his friend's life.

He also returned to help Vera Lukic, the pregnant wife of a Yugoslav diplomat and her daughter Vesna, as well as manager Sir Matt Busby, who suffered substantial injuries and spent weeks in a German hospital before going on to lift the European Cup with the reformed Busby Babes 10 years later.

Gregg, remarkably, spent the night of the crash alone in a Munich hotel room and was back in action for a makeshift United team less than two weeks later.

He now provides coaching for young players through his Harry Gregg Foundation in his home town Coleraine.

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