Russians stunned as ice hockey team is wiped out in plane crash
A private Russian jet carrying a top ice hockey team slammed into a river bank just moments after take-off, killing at least 43 people in one of the worst plane crashes ever involving a sports team.
Both Russia and the world of hockey were left stunned by the deaths of so many international stars. Two other people on board were critically injured.
The country's emergency situations ministry said the Yak-42 plane crashed into the shores of the Volga River immediately after leaving the airport near the western city of Yaroslavl, 150 miles north-east of Moscow. The weather was sunny and clear at the time.
National media said the plane struggled to gain altitude, before crashing into a signal tower and shattering into pieces. Television showed a flaming fragment of the plane in the river as divers worked to recover bodies.
The plane was carrying the Lokomotiv team from Yaroslavl to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, where they were due to play tomorrow against Dinamo Minsk in the opening game of the season for the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).
The ministry said the plane had 45 people on board -- 37 passengers and eight crew.
It said that Czech players Josef Vasicek, Karel Rachunek and Jan Marek, Swedish goalie Stefan Liv, Canadian coach Brad McCrimmon, Latvian defender Karlis Skrastins and defender Ruslan Salehi of Belarus were among those killed.
Slovakian national team captain Pavol Demitra, who played in the North American NHL for the St Louis Blues and the Vancouver Canucks, was also among the dead, officials said.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said: "Though it occurred thousands of miles from our home arenas, this tragedy represents a catastrophic loss to the hockey world -- including the NHL family, which lost so many fathers, sons, teammates and friends who at one time excelled in our league."
Officials said Russian player Alexander Galimov and a crew member had survived.
"Their state of health is very grave. But there is still some hope," said Alexander Degyatryov, chief doctor at Yaroslavl's Solovyov Hospital.
The cause of the crash was not immediately apparent, but Russian news agencies cited unnamed local officials as saying it may have been caused by technical problems.
More than 2,000 mourning fans wearing jerseys and scarves and waving team flags gathered in the evening outside Yaroslavl Lokomotiv's stadium to pay their respects.
Riot police were also present as fans chanted sporting songs in memory of the dead athletes.
Yaroslavl governor Sergei Vakhrukov promised the crowd that the Lokomotiv team would be rebuilt from scratch.
Swarms of police and rescue crews rushed to Tunoshna, a village with a blue-domed church on the banks of the Volga River 10 miles east of Yaroslavl.
One of the plane's engines could be seen poking out of the river and a flotilla of boats combed the water for bodies. Divers struggled to lift the bodies of large, strong athletes in stretchers up the muddy, steep riverbank.
Resident Irina Prakhova saw the plane going down.
"It was wobbling in flight, it was clear that something was wrong," said Ms Prakhova, who said she was on her way to a local pump to collect buckets of water. "I saw them pulling bodies to the shore, some still in their seats with seatbelts on."
Lokomotiv Yaroslavl is a leading force in Russian ice hockey and came third in the KHL last year.