In the early 1950s a British airplane attempts a take off at Munich international, fails, crashes through a fence and into a house, and eliminates the world-favorite Manchester football team, launching the incident into the higher reaches of popular journalism. The world was shocked and Manchester was in mourning.
The take off seemed relatively normal until some good bit of the runway had been eaten up, then the plane slowed suddenly, too late to stop its run.
Why had it crashed? The German investigative authorities (portrayed here as stern villains) claim the pilot, Thain, hadn't de-iced his wings before the accident. And it was true. He hadn't. The wings were wet because it was snowing a bit but at 0° C ice wasn't forming. In any case, ice on the wing wouldn't have caused the sudden drop in speed.
Thain argued that there was runway contamination. The take off roll was longer than most and had run into slush towards the end of the runway. Later evidence supported the argument, and it was an important one.
Ice on the wings, the British pilot was responsible. Slush on the runway, the German airport authorities were responsible. It doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone that there might have been more than one cause for the accident.
Fain was exonerated by British European Airlines many years later but he never flew again. In much of the press, and even today, he received much of the blame. It's easy to understand why. Fain has a name and a face that can be shown on television and in newspapers. Slush does not.
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