Bill Foulkes, former Manchester United defender and survivor of the 1958 Munich air crash, has died aged 81, the club have confirmed.

Foulkes made a total of 688 appearances for Manchester United over 18 seasons, the fourth highest in the club's history behind Ryan Giggs, Sir Bobby Charlton and Paul Scholes.

The St-Helens-born centre half made his first appearance for the club in 1952 against Liverpool and went on to become a four-time league champion, FA Cup and European Cup winner with United.

He was also one of the "Busby Babes" who survived the Munich air crash on 6 February 1958 which killed a total of 23 people, including eight players.

Foulkes captained a depleted United in the aftermath of the tragedy and led the Reds to the 1958 FA Cup final, which they lost to Bolton. One of Foulke's nine goals for the club came in the 1968 European Cup semi-final game against Real Madrid which sent them into the final.

United went on to beat Benfica 4-1 to claim their first-ever European Cup.

The club described the defender as "rock-solid pillar" in some of their most successful teams.

Speaking about the Munich crash, which occurred after the plane the club were travelling in crashed on take-off on an icy runway, Foulkes said how he was "dammed lucky" to survive.

"I could see we were going to take off and thought, 'This is stupid, they're going to take off,'" Foulkes said.

"The back end came up and I saw it came up and down again and this meant all the stuff came out of the back and hit me in the back of the head and put me in a bad way.

"I managed to get out of the plane. Someone shouted to me to get out, quick, and I got out the quickest way I thought was there, I could see the light. So I went and I got out of the plane."

United defender Rio Ferdinand wrote on Twitter that Foulkes was a "great servant to the club."

Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward also paid tribute to the 81-year-old. He said: "Bill was a giant character in the post-war history of Manchester United. He was a very gentle man, who I was privileged to meet on several occasions, including most memorably with his team-mates at the Champions League final in Moscow, 50 years after his heroics in the Munich air crash.

"Bill's contribution over almost 700 games and nearly 20 years will never be forgotten. The thoughts of everyone at the Club - directors, players, staff and fans - are with Bill's family."