LONDON: Harry Gregg was a reliable goalkeeper who made a living saving shots for Manchester United.
When he climbed into the wreckage of a plane at Munich airport 50 years ago, he was saving lives instead.
After the plane carrying the so-called Busby Babes crashed on takeoff in a snowstorm, Gregg defied a call to get away from the burning debris and went to work rescuing others.
The next thing I know youre getting hit from everywhere and you don't know where you are, he recalled of the crash on Feb 6, 1958. There were no cries, no human noise at all, only terrible sparks, tearing of metal, darkness one second, daylight the next which you can't comprehend.
Although the plane captain warned the aircraft could explode at any time, Gregg pulled or pushed out a mother and her baby and team-mates Bobby Charlton and Dennis Viollet, and tended badly injured manager Matt Busby and United star Jackie Blanchflower.
Greggs heroics could do nothing for the 23 passengers, including eight United players, who died as a result of the crash. Without his action, however, the list of fatalities could well have been even higher.
Tommy Taylor, Eddie Colman, Roger Byrne, David Pegg, Liam Whelan, Geoff Bent and Mark Jones all died in the wreckage. Duncan Edwards, considered the best Busby Babe of all, became the eighth victim 15 days later.
Among the other fatalities were eight sports writers who had covered the teams game in Belgrade.
Busby, Charlton, Viollet and Blanchflower were among the 21 survivors.
The 50th anniversary of the crash that all but wiped out one of the best young teams in the game was commemorated yesterday.
The memories of the crash will endure forever for Gregg, a former Northern Ireland goalkeeper who recorded 48 shutouts with United.
The plane taking the United team home from a European Cup game at Red Star Belgrade had stopped off in Munich for refuelling.
During heavy snow, the pilot had already aborted two takeoff attempts when he attempted a third to the consternation of the passengers.
I wouldnt say I was terrified but I looked across diagonally at Roger Byrne and Roger was afraid, Gregg said. Someone had a nervous cough and a laugh and little John Berry said, I dont know what youre laughing at ... were all going to get killed here.
The plane failed to get off the runway and crashed. AP