5 deadliest plane crashes in football history

From the 1958 Manchester United Munich crash to 2016's Brazil football club tragedy, here are some of the worst airline disasters to hit the sports world


Leslie Wilson Jr

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Published: Thu 19 Jan 2023, 9:11 AM

In the aftermath of yet another aviation-related catastrophe, with the fatal crash of Yeti Airlines 691 in Nepal on Sunday which killed over 70 passengers and crew, we take a look at some of the worst airline disasters that have involved major sports teams and players.

From 1949’s Superga air disaster where all members of the Torino football team from Turin, Italy, were killed to 2021’s Palmas plane crash which took the lives of four members of the famous Brazilian football club, world sport has been struck several times over by high-profile air crashes.

Here are some of the most publicised aeronautical mishaps involving players:

1. 1949 The Torino FC mountain crash

A Fiat three-engine commercial airplane which was carrying the Torino football team back home from Lisbon, Portugal, following a friendly match with Benfica in honour of Portuguese captain Francisco Ferreira, smashed into the back of the embankment of the Basilica of Superga on the outskirts of Turin, Italy, killing all 31 passengers on board, among them 18 players.

Still regarded as one of the worst tragedies in the history of Italian sports. Grande Torino (as the team was called) was vying for a fifth straight league title.

As a tribute, Torino was declared winners of the 1948-49 Serie A Season. On the day of the funeral, half a million people took to the streets of Turin to give in an emotional farewell to the players.

2. 1958 Man United’s Munich tragedy

A rash decision by the pilot to attempt a take-off in extreme weather conditions led to the crash of a British European Airways plane carrying members of the Manchester United team as it was taking off from Munich’s airport. Of the 44 people on board, 23 died, including eight players.

The team was returning from a European Cup (rebranded UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in 1994) match in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (now Serbia), having defeated Red Star Belgrade to qualify for the semi-finals of the competition.

The crash thwarted Man United's title ambitions and claimed the lives of some of the greatest players in English football history.

Sir Bobby Charlton, considered one of the all-time greats and a member of the England team that won the 1996 Fifa World Cup, was heroically pulled to safety out of the wreckage by goalkeeper Harry Gregg.

To commemorate the tragedy, a clock at Old Trafford Stadium in Manchester is frozen at 3.04pm, which indicates the time of the crash.

3. 1987 Lima’s Pacific catastrophe

All 16 members of Alianza Lima, Peru’s first-division football team, were killed when the plane nosedived into the Pacific Ocean. The chartered Fokker F-22 Navy aircraft was returning to the capital from a game in Pucallpa, a jungle city 355 miles northeast, where Alianza had beaten rival club Deportivo Pucallpa 1-0 to move into first place in the league.

The team had not won the title since 1978 and were elated with their position, unaware of the impending disaster. The plane plunged into the ocean and broke up on impact and the forward fuselage sank.

4. 1993 Zambian national team horror

All members of the Zambian national team were travelling to Dakar to play Senegal in a World Cup qualifier when their transport plane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean shortly after refuelling in Libreville, the capital of Gabon.

Eighteen players and five officials from the team were among the 25 passengers and crew who were killed.

The members of the national team were buried in what became known as "Heroes' Acre", just outside the Independence Stadium in Lusaka.

The resurrected team defied the odds, and displaying an attacking playing style, reached the 1994 African Cup of Nations final against Nigeria. In 2012, when Zambia won the Cup in Libreville, it provided a moment of resilience that was dedicated to those who had lost their lives in the Atlantic crash several years earlier.

5. 2016 tragedy for Brazil’s Chapecoense

An Avro R185 carrying Brazilian football team Chapecoense crashed on approach to Medellin, Colombia, killing 71 of the 77 people on board. The team was en route to compete in the 2016 Copa Sudamericana Finals against Atletico Nacional. Among those killed were: 19 players, 14 club staff members, 9 club board members, and 4 Fox Sports Brazil journalists.

Miraculously, three of the players survived with injuries.

Many South American football teams paid tribute to Chapecoense by adopting their playing kits to include the club’s badge or wearing Chapecoense's playing jerseys that were green in colour. Matches all over the world also began with a minute of silence.

The cause of the crash was attributed to fuel exhaustion as a result of an inappropriate flight plan by LaMia, a Bolivian charter airline.


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