Frank Taylor, the only journalist to survive the 1958 Munich air disaster that killed eight Manchester United players, has died of cancer, aged 81.

Taylor travelled regularly with Matt Busby's United team, nicknamed the Busby Babes, on their trips abroad in European competition in the 1950s. A total of 23 people lost their lives in the tragedy, including eight of England's finest young players.

Taylor suffered dreadful injuries to his arm and leg when the plane carrying the United team back from a European tie against Red Star Belgrade in February 1958 crashed soon after take-off following a re-fuelling stopover in Munich, Germany.

In the confusion following the disaster Taylor was believed to have died along with the eight other reporters and his own newspaper, the News Chronicle, mistakenly printed his obituary in its first edition.

Taylor spent five months in intensive care alongside the United manager, Sir Matt Busby, and even after leaving a Munich hospital months after the crash, it was more than a year before he could walk again without an aid.

Taylor slowly recovered and wrote an acclaimed account of the disaster in his book entitled The Day A Team Died.

Born in Barrow-in-Furness, the son of a shipyard engineer, Taylor attended Barrow grammar school. He worked on a number of local newspapers in the north-west, either side of war service in the RAF, before joining the News Chronicle in 1950.

When the News Chronicle folded, Taylor went on to work for the Daily Mail, the Daily Herald, the ''old'' Sun, before settling into a long a distinguished career as a sports columnist on the Daily Mirror.

In a career spanning 50 years he visited 73 countries, including coverage of every Olympics from Rome in 1960 to Barcelona 10 years ago.

For 40 years, Taylor was one of the world's most respected sports writers, and was awarded the OBE in 1978 for his services to journalism. A considerable influence on the international stage, he was life president of the Association Internationale de la Presse Sportive (AIPS, the world association of sports writers).

Appropriately, his death was announced on the club's official website. ''Manchester United would like to extend its deepest condolences to Frank's family and friends,'' the club said in a statement.

He is survived by his wife and two sons.

John Frederick ''Frank'' Taylor, journalist; born December 7 1920, died July 19, 2002.