Busby’s Babes, the Andes Survivors - A history of air disasters in sport

Chapecoense players were killed when chartered plane crashed on Tuesday

Plane crashes can be uniquely devastating when a sports team is involved.

That sense of loss was felt deeply in Brazil on Tuesday, a day after members of the soccer club Chapecoense were killed when a chartered plane carrying the team crashed on the outskirts of Medellín, Colombia.

Here are some other crashes that involved sports teams around the world.

1949: Torino Soccer Club

A Fiat airplane carrying 31 people slammed into a mountain peak outside Turin, Italy, on May 4th, killing 22 members of Torino, the soccer club that carries the name of the city.

The crash convulsed the country and the city, the capital of the Piedmont region in northern Italy. The team had been regarded as one of the best of its era.

The crash was considered one of the worst tragedies in the history of Italian sports. The psychological effects on Italian soccer were felt so strongly that a book detailing the crash was called “The Day Italian Football Died.”

1958: Manchester United

On February 6th, a plane carrying the Manchester United team crashed as it was taking off from Munich's airport. Of the 44 people aboard, 23 died, including eight players and eight journalists.

To commemorate the loss, a clock at Old Trafford stadium in Manchester was kept frozen at 3:04 p.m., the time of the crash.

The crash would play a role in cementing Manchester United’s status, as the club rebounded and re-emerged as a dominant force in English soccer.

The team, under the stewardship of Matt Busby, had won league titles in 1956 and 1957 with a young squad. The average age of the players was 24, earning them the nickname "the Busby Babes."

1961: United States Figure Skating Team

The 18-member team was on its way to the World Figure Skating Championships in Prague on February 15th when the Sabena plane it was aboard plunged into a field in Belgium.

The entire team was killed. The victims included Laurence Owen, 16, who had won the women's title at the United States Figure Skating Championships about a month earlier.

The crash deprived the American team of its most glittering talent, and it took years for it to recover.

1970: Marshall University Football Team

A Southern Airways DC-9, flying on November 14th toward Tri-State Airport in West Virginia, hit the tops of pine trees, crashed into a mountainside and exploded.

There were no survivors among the 75 people on board, and the crash amounted to the worst disaster involving an American sports team: Thirty-eight members of the Marshall University Thundering Herd football team were killed.

The crash nearly prompted the university, in Huntington, W.Va., to discontinue its football program. The town was plunged into mourning, and it took weeks to hold all the funerals. The crash was the subject of a 2006 film, “We Are Marshall.”

1972: Old Christians Rugby Union Club

An Uruguayan Air Force charter plane carrying 45 people, most of them members of the Old Christians rugby club and their supporters, crashed on October 13th high in the Andes Mountains of Argentina, setting into motion one of the 20th century’s most harrowing stories of survival.

Stranded at an altitude of more than 11,000 feet in frigid conditions, 16 passengers were ultimately rescued 72 days after the crash, having survived by cannibalising the frozen bodies of fellow passengers.

Twenty-seven people survived the crash and their injuries in the first several days. Of the initial survivors, eight were killed by an avalanche while sleeping in the plane’s fuselage more than two weeks after the crash. The last 16 people were rescued after two of the team’s players trekked for 10 days looking for help.

Many of the team’s members were university students who played for the Old Christians, the alumni team of the high school they had attended in Montevideo, Uruguay. The plane was flying between Montevideo and Santiago, Chile.

The survivors' story inspired the book "Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors," by Piers Paul Read, and the 1993 film "Alive."

1977: University of Evansville Basketball Team

A chartered DC-3 carrying 31 people, including the basketball team from the University of Evansville in Indiana, crashed and burned on December 13th after taking off in heavy fog and rain.

Among the dead were all of the team's players and its coach, Bobby Watson, who had been in his first year with the team.

The victims are commemorated with a statue called the “Weeping Basketball” in the Memorial Plaza at the university. “It was as great a tragedy for the city as it was for the university,” said Wallace Graves, the university president at the time. “Every bit as great. Basketball was the most prominent event in the city.”

1987: Alianza Lima, Peruvian Soccer Team

A Navy plane carrying Peru’s first-division soccer team Alianza Lima plunged into the Pacific Ocean on December 8th, killing 16 players and the team’s coach. The plane was returning to the capital from a game in Pucallpa, a jungle city 355 miles northeast, where Alianza had moved into first place with a 1-0 victory.

Even though Alianza was all but destroyed in the crash, the club forged ahead with the rest of the season, emboldened by players who came out of retirement to help fill the ranks.

1993: Zambian National Soccer Team

Zambia’s national team traveled to Dakar on April 27th to play Senegal in a match to qualify for the World Cup. The plane never arrived. It crashed over the Atlantic after refueling in Libreville, the capital of Gabon. Eighteen players and five officials from the team were killed.

The country and the team were forced to grapple with the loss of life, along with the gaping hole left in Zambian soccer. In 2012, Zambia won the Africa Cup of Nations in Libreville, a moment of resilience that was dedicated to those who had lost their lives.

2011: Yaroslavl Lokomotiv Hockey Team

A Russian airliner chartered by one of the country’s elite hockey teams, Yaroslavl Lokomotiv, crashed during takeoff on September 7th near the city of Yaroslavl, killing all but two of the 45 people on board, including 27 players, two coaches and seven club officials.

Lokomotiv was a three-time Russian champion. The crash not only represented a huge setback for Russian hockey but also drew attention to Russia’s history of air safety problems.

The crash resonated around the globe. The victims included Brad McCrimmon, a Canadian coach; Pavol Demitra, the captain of the Slovak national team; and Jan Marek, Karel Rachunek and Josef Vasicek, three members of the Czech national team.

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