Air travel is the safest form of transportation, with only a 1 in 9,821 chance of dying in a plane crash or other disasters arising from air travel. But whenever air disasters happen, they usually claim the lives of the victims or leave them crippled for the rest of their lives.
Throughout history, we’ve had many prominent personalities fall victim to perils of air travel, and a significant chunk of them have been footballers. Their risk is amplified as they have to travel to many different places every week.
Today we are going to focus on 5 incidents where air disasters took the lives of football players.
1.Superga Air Disaster :
One of the greatest squads ever, “Il Grande Torino”, consisting of stars like Valentino Mazzola and others, had travelled to Portugal to play Benfica in a Friendly match. On the way back, they had landed at Barcelona to refuel and they had lunch with Milan over there who were travelling to Madrid. On the way back to Turin, the pilot thought that he had aligned with the runway, but a stuck altimeter and heavy winds, coupled with low visibility had misguided him. He had aligned with the Basilica of Superga, and before they could react, the plane slammed into the back embankment of the Basilica on 4th of May, 1949. All 31 occupants died, including nearly the whole Torino first team (except the second choice goalie and fullback Sauro Toma, who hadn’t travelled to the match), manager Erbstein, three renowned journalists, and English coach Leslie Lievesley. What is even more saddening that almost all the players of the Italian national team was formed of the Torino players.
2.Munich Air Disaster :
Another disaster which claimed one of the most promising English teams ever, this incident occurred on the 6th of February, 1958, when BEA flight 609 crashed on its third attempt to take off from a slush-covered runway at Munich Airport.
The “Busby Babes”, the talented group who turned out for Manchester United under the tutelage of Sir Matt Busby, were retuning from Belgrade, having eliminated Crvena Zvezda in the European Cup. They had stopped to refuel in Munich as the aeroplane they were flying in was incapable of sustaining a non-stop flight from Belgrade to Manchester. The pilots had twice abandoned takeoff due to boost surging in the left engine, but due to severe time constraint, Captain Thain rejected an option of overnight stay in Munich in favour of a third takeoff attempt. Snow had started falling, resulting in slush formation on the runway. After the aircraft hit the slush, it ploughed through a fence beyond the end of the runway and the left wing was torn off after hitting a house. They started evacuating, fearing the aircraft might explode. The crash claimed 23 vicims, and only 21 people survived. Players like Duncan Ferguson, who had been slated to become one of the greatest footballers ever, perished in the accident. It took Busby 10 years to rebuild the squad and win the next European Cup in 1968.
3.Alianza Lima Air Disaster:
This took place on 8th of December, 1987, when the airplane chartered by Peruvian Club Alianza Lima crashed into the Pacific Ocean just 9 kilometres from it’s destination. 43 of the 44 people on the aircraft perished, leaving the pilot as the sole survivor.
The pilot, uncomfortable with the malfunctioning indicator on his panel wanted a visual conformation of the landing gear being locked in place, requested a flyby of the control tower at Lima airport. Upon receiving confirmation, he went around to realign and land but the plane flew too low and hit the Pacific Ocean.
Initially the Peruvian Navy didn’t release results of the investigation, trying to save face, but in 2006 a Peruvian TV programme released the reports, which cited the pilot’s lack of night flying experience, shoddy mechanical condition, and his misreading of emergency protocol.
4.Medellin Air Crash :
One of the more recent disasters which claimed the lives of the players of the Brazilian Chapecoense Football Club.
The plane took off from Viru Viru Intl’ Airport in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia and was destined for Jose Maria Cordova Intl’ Aiport in Medellin, Colombia, for the second leg of the Final of the 2016 Copa Sudamericana against Atletico Nacional. Due to certain regulations, the team was forced to use LaMia (the aircraft carrier) from Bolivia to Colombia, as they weren’t allowed to have a direct LaMia flight from Sao Paulo to Medellin.
While descending to land at the airport, the aircraft hit the crest of a ridge on a mountain known as Cerro Gordo. Out of the 77 occupants, 71 died, with 6 critically injured.
In the aftermath, Atletico Nacional appealed to CONMEBOL that the cup be handed to Chapecoense, and their request was granted.
5.English Channel Air Disaster :
The most recent disaster that shook the whole football fraternity, this occurred in the English Channel, off the coast of Alderney. Emiliano Sala, an Argentine footballer, had recently signed for the Premier League side Cardiff City. He was their record signing at 15 million Pounds. He was playing at the French side Nantes before the move, and was having one of his best seasons, and competing for the French league top goalscorer spot along with the likes of Mbappe. Cardiff thought they had resolved their goalscoring inefficiency with this coup signing. Their manager Neil Warnock invited Sala to watch their game against Newcastle, but he thought it would be better to return to Nantes to bid his goodbye to the team and collect his personal belongings. On the way back from Nantes to Cardiff, the aircraft (a Piper Malibu) disappeared off Alderney on the 22nd of January. Search parties couldn’t find neither the aircraft nor its occupants (Sala and the pilot, David Ibbotson) till 17 days later, when a private search party found the aircraft on the seafloor. The sole body inside the aircraft was retrieved and confirmed to be of Emiliano Sala’s.
The whole football world united in search of Emiliano, and several people donated money for Sala’s search to go on. Nantes retired the Number 9 jersey permanently in Sala’s honour.