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

By Jim Gracey

Published 02/12/2016

Harry Gregg said this week’s horrific plane crash in Colombia brought back memories of Manchester United’s Munich air disaster
Harry Gregg said this week’s horrific plane crash in Colombia brought back memories of Manchester United’s Munich air disaster
This week’s horrific plane crash in Colombia
Manchester United’s Munich air disaster

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."

People pay tribute to the players of Brazilian team Chapecoense Real who were killed in a plane accident in the Colombian mountains, at the club's Arena Conda stadium in Chapeco, in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, on November 29, 2016. AFP/Getty Images
People pay tribute to the players of Brazilian team Chapecoense Real who were killed in a plane accident in the Colombian mountains, at the club's Arena Conda stadium in Chapeco, in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, on November 29, 2016. AFP/Getty Images
A fan of Colombia's football team Atletico Nacional holds a banner in memoriam of the Chapecoense footbal team members in La Union, Antioquia Department, Colombia on November 29, 2016. A charter plane carrying the Chapecoense Real football team crashed in the mountains in Colombia late Monday, killing as many as 75 people, officials said / AFP PHOTO / LUIS ACOSTALUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images
A woman pays tribute to the players of Brazilian team Chapecoense Real who were killed in a plane accident in the Colombian mountains, at the club's Arena Conda stadium in Chapeco, in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, on November 29, 2016. AFP/Getty Images
People pay tribute to the players of Brazilian team Chapecoense Real who were killed in a plane accident in the Colombian mountains, at the club's Arena Conda stadium in Chapeco, in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, on November 29, 2016. Players of the Chapecoense were among 81 people on board the doomed flight that crashed into mountains in northwestern Colombia, in which officials said just six people were thought to have survived, including three of the players. Chapecoense had risen from obscurity to make it to the Copa Sudamericana finals scheduled for Wednesday against Atletico Nacional of Colombia. / AFP PHOTO / Nelson ALMEIDANELSON ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images
People attend a mass in memoriam of the players of Brazilian team Chapecoense Real killed in a plane crash in the Colombian mountains, in Chapeco, in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, on November 29, 2016. Players of the Chapecoense were among 81 people on board the doomed flight that crashed into mountains in northwestern Colombia, in which officials said just six people were thought to have survived, including three of the players. Chapecoense had risen from obscurity to make it to the Copa Sudamericana finals scheduled for Wednesday against Atletico Nacional of Colombia. / AFP PHOTO / Nelson AlmeidaNELSON ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images
People attend a mass in memoriam of the players of Brazilian team Chapecoense Real killed in a plane crash in the Colombian mountains, in Chapeco, in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, on November 29, 2016. Players of the Chapecoense were among 81 people on board the doomed flight that crashed into mountains in northwestern Colombia, in which officials said just six people were thought to have survived, including three of the players. Chapecoense had risen from obscurity to make it to the Copa Sudamericana finals scheduled for Wednesday against Atletico Nacional of Colombia. / AFP PHOTO / Nelson AlmeidaNELSON ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images
People attend a mass in memoriam of the players of Brazilian team Chapecoense Real killed in a plane crash in the Colombian mountains, in Chapeco, in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, on November 29, 2016. Players of the Chapecoense were among 81 people on board the doomed flight that crashed into mountains in northwestern Colombia, in which officials said just six people were thought to have survived, including three of the players. Chapecoense had risen from obscurity to make it to the Copa Sudamericana finals scheduled for Wednesday against Atletico Nacional of Colombia. / AFP PHOTO / Nelson AlmeidaNELSON ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images
A red rose sits on top of the Chapecoense soccer team logo outside the Arena Conda stadium, where team fans are gathering in Chapeco, Brazil, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. A chartered plane that was carrying the Brazilian soccer team Chapecoense to the biggest match of its history crashed into a Colombian hillside and broke into pieces, Colombian officials said Tuesday. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)
Rescuers search for survivors from the wreckage of the LAMIA airlines charter plane. / AFP PHOTO / RAUL ARBOLEDARAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images
Rescue workers search for survivors at he wreckage of a chartered airplane that crashed in La Union, a mountainous area outside Medellin, Colombia, Tuesday , Nov. 29, 2016. The plane was carrying the Brazilian first division soccer club Chapecoense team that was on it's way for a Copa Sudamericana final match against Colombia's Atletico Nacional. (AP Photo/Luis Benavides)
Police officers and rescue workers search for survivors around the wreckage of a chartered airplane that crashed in La Union, a mountainous area outside Medellin, Colombia, Wednesday , Nov. 30, 2016. The plane was carrying the Brazilian first division soccer club Chapecoense team that was on it's way for a Copa Sudamericana final match against Colombia's Atletico Nacional. (AP Photo/Luis Benavides)
Rescuers carry one of the survivors from the LAMIA airlines charter plane carrying members of the Chapecoense Real football team that crashed in the mountains of Cerro Gordo, municipality of La Union, on November 29, 2016. A charter plane carrying a Brazilian football team crashed in the mountains in Colombia late Monday, killing as many as 75 people, officials said. / AFP PHOTO / Raul ARBOLEDARAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images
The wreckage of the LAMIA airlines charter plane carrying members of the Chapecoense Real football team is seen after it crashed in the mountains of Cerro Gordo, municipality of La Union, on November 29, 2016. A charter plane carrying the Brazilian football team crashed in the mountains in Colombia late Monday, killing as many as 75 people, officials said. / AFP PHOTO / Raul ARBOLEDARAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images
The wreckage of the LAMIA airlines charter plane carrying members of the Chapecoense Real football team is seen after it crashed in the mountains of Cerro Gordo, municipality of La Union, on November 29, 2016. A charter plane carrying the Brazilian football team crashed in the mountains in Colombia late Monday, killing as many as 75 people, officials said. / AFP PHOTO / Raul ARBOLEDARAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images
Rescuers gesture near the wreckage of the LAMIA airlines charter plane carrying members of the Chapecoense Real football team that crashed in the mountains of Cerro Gordo, municipality of La Union, on November 29, 2016. A charter plane carrying the Chapocoense Real football team crashed in the mountains in Colombia late Monday, killing as many as 75 people, officials said. / AFP PHOTO / Raul ARBOLEDARAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images
The wreckage of the LAMIA airlines charter plane carrying members of the Chapecoense Real football team is seen after it crashed in the mountains of Cerro Gordo, municipality of La Union, on November 29, 2016. A charter plane carrying the Brazilian football team crashed in the mountains in Colombia late Monday, killing as many as 75 people, officials said. / AFP PHOTO / Raul ARBOLEDARAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images
Rescuers carry one of the survivors from the LAMIA airlines charter plane carrying members of the Chapecoense Real football team that crashed in the mountains of Cerro Gordo, municipality of La Union, on November 29, 2016. A charter plane carrying the Chapocoense Real football team crashed in the mountains in Colombia late Monday, killing as many as 75 people, officials said. / AFP PHOTO / Raul ARBOLEDARAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images
The wreckage of the LAMIA airlines charter plane carrying members of the Chapecoense Real football team that crashed is seen in the mountains of Cerro Gordo, municipality of La Union, on November 29, 2016. A charter plane carrying the Chapocoense Real football team crashed in the mountains in Colombia late Monday, killing as many as 75 people, officials said. / AFP PHOTO / Raul ARBOLEDARAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images
Rescuers search for survivors from the wreckage of the LAMIA airlines charter plane carrying members of the Chapecoense Real football team that crashed in the mountains of Cerro Gordo, municipality of La Union, on November 29, 2016. A charter plane carrying the Brazilian football team crashed in the mountains in Colombia late Monday, killing as many as 75 people, officials said. / AFP PHOTO / Raul ARBOLEDARAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images
Rescuers search for survivors from the wreckage of the LAMIA airlines charter plane carrying members of the Chapecoense Real football team that crashed in the mountains of Cerro Gordo, municipality of La Union, on November 29, 2016. A charter plane carrying the Brazilian football team crashed in the mountains in Colombia late Monday, killing as many as 75 people, officials said. / AFP PHOTO / Raul ARBOLEDARAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images
Rescuers search for survivors from the wreckage of the LAMIA airlines charter plane carrying members of the Chapecoense Real football team that crashed in the mountains of Cerro Gordo, municipality of La Union, on November 29, 2016. A charter plane carrying the Brazilian football team crashed in the mountains in Colombia late Monday, killing as many as 75 people, officials said. / AFP PHOTO / Raul ARBOLEDARAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images
Rescuers search for survivors from the wreckage of the LAMIA airlines charter plane carrying members of the Chapecoense Real football team that crashed in the mountains of Cerro Gordo, municipality of La Union, on November 29, 2016. A charter plane carrying the Brazilian football team crashed in the mountains in Colombia late Monday, killing as many as 75 people, officials said. / AFP PHOTO / RAUL ARBOLEDARAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images
Rescuers carry one of the survivors from the LAMIA airlines charter plane carrying members of the Chapecoense Real football team that crashed in the mountains of Cerro Gordo, municipality of La Union, on November 29, 2016. A charter plane carrying the Chapocoense Real football team crashed in the mountains in Colombia late Monday, killing as many as 75 people, officials said. / AFP PHOTO / Raul ARBOLEDARAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images
Rescuers search for survivors from the wreckage of the LAMIA airlines charter plane carrying members of the Chapecoense Real football team that crashed in the mountains of Cerro Gordo, municipality of La Union, on November 29, 2016. A charter plane carrying the Brazilian football team crashed in the mountains in Colombia late Monday, killing as many as 75 people, officials said. / AFP PHOTO / Raul ARBOLEDARAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images
Members of the forensics team carry the bodies of victims of the LAMIA airlines charter plane crash in the mountains of Cerro Gordo, municipality of La Union, on November 29, 2016. A charter plane carrying the Chapecoense Real football team crashed in the mountains in Colombia late Monday, killing as many as 75 people, officials said. / AFP PHOTO / RAUL ARBOLEDARAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images
A police officer stands next to the body of a victim of the LAMIA airlines charter plane crash in the mountains of Cerro Gordo, municipality of La Union, on November 29, 2016. A charter plane carrying the Chapecoense Real football team crashed in the mountains in Colombia late Monday, killing as many as 75 people, officials said. / AFP PHOTO / RAUL ARBOLEDARAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images
Rescue workers arrange the bodies of victims of an airplane that crashed in La Union, a mountainous area outside Medellin, Colombia, Tuesday , Nov. 29, 2016. The plane was carrying the Brazilian first division soccer club Chapecoense team that was on it's way for a Copa Sudamericana final match against Colombia's Atletico Nacional. (AP Photo/Luis Benavides)
Rescue workers carry the body of a survivor of a plane that crashed in La Union, a mountainous area outside Medellin, Colombia, Tuesday , Nov. 29, 2016. The plane was carrying the Brazilian first division soccer club Chapecoense team that was on it's way for a Copa Sudamericana final match against Colombia's Atletico Nacional. (AP Photo/Luis Benavides)
Rescue workers carry the boris of victims of an airplane that crashed in La Union, a mountainous area outside Medellin, Colombia, Tuesday , Nov. 29, 2016. The plane was carrying the Brazilian first division soccer club Chapecoense team that was on it's way for a Copa Sudamericana final match against Colombia's Atletico Nacional. (AP Photo/Luis Benavides)
Rescue workers carry the body of a man from a plane that crashed outside Medellin, Colombia, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. The plane was carrying the Brazilian first division soccer club Chapecoense team that was on it's way for a Copa Sudamericana final match against Colombia's Atletico Nacional. (AP Photo/Luis Benavides)
CORRECTS DATE - Police officers and rescue workers search for survivors around the wreckage of a chartered airplane that crashed in La Union, a mountainous area outside Medellin, Colombia, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. The plane was carrying the Brazilian first division soccer club Chapecoense team that was on it's way for a Copa Sudamericana final match against Colombia's Atletico Nacional. (AP Photo/Luis Benavides)
Rescue workers search at the wreckage site of a chartered airplane that crashed outside Medellin, Colombia, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. The plane was carrying the Brazilian first division soccer club Chapecoense team that was on it's way for a Copa Sudamericana final match against Colombia's Atletico Nacional. (AP Photo/Luis Benavides)
EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / Members of the forensics team recover the bodies of victims of the LAMIA airlines charter plane crash in the mountains of Cerro Gordo, municipality of La Union, on November 29, 2016. A charter plane carrying the Chapecoense Real football team crashed in the mountains in Colombia late Monday, killing as many as 75 people, officials said. / AFP PHOTO / RAUL ARBOLEDARAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images
Rescue workers carry the bodies of victims of an airplane that crashed in a mountainous area outside Medellin, Colombia, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. The plane was carrying the Brazilian first division soccer club Chapecoense team that was on it's way for a Copa Sudamericana final match against Colombia's Atletico Nacional. (AP Photo/Luis Benavides)
TOPSHOT - EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / Members of the forensics team recover the bodies of victims of the LAMIA airlines charter plane crash in the mountains of Cerro Gordo, municipality of La Union, on November 29, 2016. A charter plane carrying the Chapecoense Real football team crashed in the mountains in Colombia late Monday, killing as many as 75 people, officials said. / AFP PHOTO / RAUL ARBOLEDARAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOT - Rescuers search for survivors from the wreckage of the LAMIA airlines charter plane carrying members of the Chapecoense Real football team that crashed in the mountains of Cerro Gordo, municipality of La Union, on November 29, 2016. A charter plane carrying the Brazilian football team crashed in the mountains in Colombia late Monday, killing as many as 75 people, officials said. / AFP PHOTO / Raul ARBOLEDARAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOT - Rescuers carry one of the survivors from the LAMIA airlines charter plane carrying members of the Chapecoense Real football team that crashed in the mountains of Cerro Gordo, municipality of La Union, on November 29, 2016. A charter plane carrying the Chapocoense Real football team crashed in the mountains in Colombia late Monday, killing as many as 75 people, officials said. / AFP PHOTO / Raul ARBOLEDARAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOT - Rescuers carry one of the survivors from the LAMIA airlines charter plane carrying members of the Chapecoense Real football team that crashed in the mountains of Cerro Gordo, municipality of La Union, on November 29, 2016. A charter plane carrying the Brazilian football team crashed in the mountains in Colombia late Monday, killing as many as 75 people, officials said. / AFP PHOTO / Raul ARBOLEDARAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images

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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