What very sad role in sporting history was played by James Thain?
On the 6th of February, 1958, the British European Airways (BEA) flight 609 carrying the Manchester United team known as the "Busby Babes" and their legendary boss, Matt Busby, back from a European cup match in Belgrade crashed on its third attempt to take off after a stopover in Munich, then in West Germany. There were two pilots on board, but James Thain (1921-1975) was command pilot at the time.
He had an honourable record - he had served in the RAF in the war, and on returning to civilian life, became a pilot for BEA.
In appalling conditions, the plane skidded off the end of the runway, and it was a miracle that the residents of a nearby house were not also killed in the crash. There were twenty-three fatalities, of whom 20 perished at the scene. Eight members of the Manchester United team perished, including the legendary Duncan Edwards. Amongst the survivors were Matt Busby (whose life hung in the balance) and Bobby Charlton, who went on to have a long and honourable career as both a player and a manager.
For more than a decade, Captain Thain was blamed for the crash and accused of not de-icing the wings properly, although eye-witness accounts testified that it was not necessary and runway conditions were to blame. He never piloted a plane again.