Former Manchester United and Northern Ireland goalkeeper Harry Gregg, a hero of the Munich air disaster, has died at the age of 87.

His death was announced by the Harry Gregg Foundation on Monday morning.

Gregg was a survivor of the air disaster on 6 February 1958, in which 23 people were killed, and twice returned to the burning fuselage to drag team-mates and strangers to safety.

He rescued United team-mates Bobby Charlton and Dennis Viollet from the BEA Flight 609, as well as a 20-month old baby and her badly injured, pregnant mother.

"It is with great sorrow that we inform of the death of Manchester United and Northern Ireland legend Harry Gregg," his foundation said in a statement posted on Facebook.

"Harry passed away peacefully in hospital surrounded by his loving family.

"The Gregg family would like to thank the medical staff at Causeway Hospital for their wonderful dedication to Harry over his last few weeks. To everyone who has called, visited or sent well wishes we thank you for the love and respect shown to Harry and the family.

"Details of his funeral arrangement will be issued in the next few days.

"We would ask that the privacy of the family is respected at this difficult time. Never to be forgotten!"

Gregg became the world's most expensive keeper when United, and Sir Matt Busby, shelled out £23,000 in 1957 and was voted the best at the World Cup a year later.

He spent nine years with the Red Devils and, although he never won a medal with the club, injury having ruled him out of the 1963 FA Cup final and restricted his appearances in two title-winning campaigns, an unforgettable career was forged.

In all he played 247 times for United, including, incredibly, a 3-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday just 13 days after the Munich tragedy.

He eventually left Old Trafford for the briefest of stopovers at Stoke and a underwhelming managerial career followed, with spells in charge of Shrewsbury, Swansea, Crewe and Carlisle.

Gregg played 25 times for Northern Ireland.

Former United midfielder and Northern Ireland international Norman Whiteside tweeted: "Harry Gregg what a man we love you Sir RIP. As a 15 year old boy  Harry came to visit me in hospital in Manchester to make sure I was in the right hands of Manchester United ?? What a man ?? RIP."

Former United manager Ron Atkinson tweeted: "Thoughts and prayers are with Harry's family and friends RIP my friend."

Bobby Charlton said in a statement on United's website: "Lady Norma and I are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Harry Gregg.

"I was proud to call him a team-mate. For all the matter of fact things Harry said about that night in Munich, for me, he will always be remembered as a heroic figure. It's incredible to think that he went on to play in a match against Sheffield Wednesday just 13 days after that tragic night.

"A shining light both on and off the pitch. For so many reasons, he deserves to be remembered as one of the greatest names in Manchester United's history. Harry will be deeply missed and our thoughts are with Carolyn and his family at this very sad time."

Alex Ferguson, who took his United team to play in Gregg's testimonial in Belfast in 2012, said: "I was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Harry Gregg.

"Harry was a man of great character and a true legend at our club. I remember that he was always very excited and proud to host our youth team at his boarding house for the Milk Cup every summer, so he could recount the tales of his playing days. I loved his company and the many pieces of advice he gave me.

"My thoughts and prayers are with Carolyn and his family at this very sad time. God bless Harry."


RTÉ Archives: Harry Gregg recalls the Munich air crash disaster