At 3.04pm on February 6, 1958, slush on the runway in Germany prevented United’s plane from reaching take-off speed and led to a crash that killed 23 people.
Eight first-team players, one of whom was 22-year-old Irish superstar Liam Whelan, and three long-serving members of staff were among those to die as Matt Busby’s United made their way back from a European Cup match at Red Star Belgrade.
Eight journalists, the co-pilot, cabin steward, travel agent and a United supporter were also killed in a crash that only 21 people survived.
Bobby Charlton and Harry Gregg were among the survivors and both attended yesterday’s emotional Old Trafford occasion, along with families of the players, staff, media and friends.
More than 4,500 supporters joined them in the East Stand, as former manager Alex Ferguson, director Michael Edelson, and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward gave readings.
The trio wore commemorative ties featuring names of those who perished in Munich, while United manager Jose Mourinho and captain Michael Carrick laid wreaths after a minute’s silence at 3.04pm.
“It was very fitting, a beautiful service — powerful, emotional,” midfielder Carrick told MUTV. “For me, it was emotional sitting next to Sir Bobby and coming to terms with what he’s been through. It was tough but a pleasure to be part of.”
United’s first-team all attended what defender Chris Smalling called a “very moving service”, while midfielder Paul Pogba said the victims would be “forever remembered”.
Ahead of the ceremony, long-serving Ashley Young expressed the disaster’s lasting impact at United.
“The Munich Air Disaster is something I was always aware of growing up but in truth I didn’t understand its influence on @ManUtd until I joined the club,” he posted on Twitter.
“The lows of February 1958 that ultimately led to the highs of Wembley 1968 are inspiring to every player that has the honour to pull on the United shirt.
“Today we remember and mourn but we must also take inspiration from the response to the tragedy and people like Sir Bobby Charlton.
“It’s a privilege for all of us to still have him around and active at Manchester United.
“You still sing about Sir Matt Busby and about playing football ‘the Busby way’.
“We have a duty to keep that spirit alive and keep making you proud to support this team.
“Keep the red flag flying high and join me, my team-mates, the staff at the club and millions of fans around the world in remembering The Busby Babes. The Flowers of Manchester”
Fifa president Gianni Infantino, Uefa vice-president Fernando Gomes, Manchester City ambassador Mike Summerbee and Liverpool great Kenny Dalglish were also in attendance at a ceremony led by club chaplain Rev John Boyers.
“Those flowers of Manchester produced seeds which later were to bloom,” the club chaplain said.
“One of the great legacies of Sir Matt’s management at this club is the emphasis on youth, homegrown talent.
“The Busby Babes pioneered an ethos that is still important to this club. Today, the past and the future are linked.”
A minute’s silence was followed by Pete Martin’s rendition of ‘The Flowers of Manchester’, while former goalkeeper Gregg, who spent time at the United training ground earlier in the day, sung along with ‘Abide With Me’ as the ceremony ended.
Events commemorating the 60th anniversary of the disaster were also held in Munich and Belgrade.
Around 2,000 fans gathered in Germany for a fan-organised ceremony attended by club ambassador and former Ireland international Denis Irwin and senior United executives, along with some surviving doctors and nurses involved in the treatment of manager Busby and his team.
“It’s amazing turn-out from our supporters, a lot of them make an annual pilgrimage out here. There’s hundreds, absolutely hundreds out here paying respects to the darkest day in the club’s history, I’m truly amazed I really am,” Irwin said.