At least 44 people died on Wednesday afternoon when a plane carrying the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team crashed during take-off near Yaroslavl, some 250 km from Moscow, emergencies officials said.
Two people survived the crash, one of which investigators said was a forward for the hockey team. Reports say that the surviving player was Alexander Galimov who suffered burns to 80 percent of his body.
Eight members of the crew were among the dead.
The Yak-42 plane was carrying the team to Minsk, the Belarusian capital, for the start of the new Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).
The plane crashed at 4:00 pm Moscow time. Interfax reported that the plane failed to gain enough altitude during takeoff and clipped an antenna tower causing it to crash to the ground and burn.
“Passenger body parts were found in the Volga River, where part of the fuselage fell,” a police source said.
Lokomotiv has a number of former NHL stars on the books, including former Minnesota Wild and Vancouver Canucks centre Pavol Demitra, Josef Vasicek, also a centre formerly with the New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes, and Belarusian defenseman Ruslan Salei, formerly of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, Colorado Avalanche and the Red Wings.
The opening match for the KHL season has been cancelled.
President Dmitry Medvedev, who was due to take part in a political forum in Yaroslavl on Thursday, has expressed his condolences to the families of the victims. His press-secretary said Medvedev would visit the site of the crash. He added that his program for the political forum would be adjusted in light of the catastrophe.
Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, founded in 1949 as the team of the Railways Ministry, is one of Russia’s leading hockey teams and came runner up in the nascent Kontinental Hockey League in 2008 and 2009. In 1997 it took the Russian Superleague title and won back-to-back championships in 2002 and 2003. It was one of the favorites for this year’s Kontinental Hockey League.
English Football Club Manchester United suffered a similar tragedy in 1958, when their plane crashed on an air strip at Munich airport on takeoff, killing 23 people out of 44 on board. The team’s manager Sir Matt Busby was seriously injured.