- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 7, 2011

TUNOSHNA, Russia (AP) — A Russian jet carrying a top hockey team slammed into a riverbank moments after takeoff Wednesday, killing at least 43 people in one of the worst plane crashes ever involving a sports team. Two other people on board were injured critically.

The Russian 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 northeast of Moscow. It was sunny at the time.

Russian television showed footage of the flaming wreck in the river as divers worked to recover bodies.

The plane was carrying the Lokomotiv ice hockey team from Yaroslavl to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, where the team was to play Thursday against Dinamo Minsk in the opening game of the season for the Kontinental Hockey League. The ministry said the plane had 45 people on board, including 37 passengers and eight crew.

Officials said Russian player Alexander Galimov survived the crash along with a crewmember.

The emergency ministry said Czech players Josef Vasicek, Karel Rachunek and Jan Marek; Swedish goalie Stefan Liv; Canadian coach Brad McCrimmon; and Latvian defenseman Karlis Skrastins were among those killed.

“This is the darkest day in the history of our sport. This is not only a Russian tragedy — the Lokomotiv roster included players and coaches from 10 nations,” said Rene Fasel, president of the international Ice Hockey Federation. “This is a terrible tragedy for the global ice hockey community.”

Several hundred mourning fans wearing jerseys and scarves gathered in the evening at the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv stadium to pay their respects.

In recent years, Russia and the other former Soviet republics have had some of the world’s worst air-safety records. Experts blame the poor safety record on the age of the aircraft, weak government controls, poor pilot training and a cost-cutting mentality.

The plane that crashed was built in 1993 and belonged to a small Moscow-based Yak Service company.

Swarms of police and rescue crews rushed to Tunoshna, a village with a blue-domed church on the banks of the Volga. 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 heft the bodies of large, strong athletes in stretchers up the muddy, steep riverbank.

Resident Irina Prakhova saw the plane going down, then heard a loud bang and saw a plume of smoke.

“It was wobbling in flight, it was clear that something was wrong,” said 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.”

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin sent the nation’s transport minister to the site, 10 miles east of Yaroslavl. President Dmitry Medvedev also planned to tour the crash site.

Lokomotiv Yaroslavl is a leading force in Russian hockey and came third in the KHL last year. Mr. McCrimmon, who took over in May, was most recently an assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings and played for years in the NHL for Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit, Hartford and Phoenix.

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