Russian Hockey Team Plane Crash Kills 43
A Russian jet carrying a KHL ice hockey team crashed into a river bank Wednesday while taking off in western Russia, killing at least 43 people and leaving two others critically injured, officials said.
The Russian Emergency Situations Ministry said the Yak-42 plane crashed in sunny weather immediately after leaving an airport near the city of Yaroslavl, on the Volga River about 150 miles northeast of Moscow.
It said the plane was carrying the Lokomotiv ice hockey team from Yaroslavl to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, where it was to play Thursday against Dinamo Minsk in the opening game of the season of the Continental Hockey League. The ministry was carrying 45 people, including 37 passengers and eight crew, and two people survived the crash.
Slovakian forward and national team captain Pavol Demitra, who played in the NHL for the St. Louis Blues and Vancouver Canucks, was on the plane, his agent, Matt Keator, told ESPN.com. “[It’s] just awful,” Keator said.
Eleven foreign players were reportedly onboard the jet. A Czech embassy official said Czech players Josef Vasicek, Karel Rachunek and Jan Marek were among those killed.
International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel called the crash “a terrible tragedy for the global ice hockey community,” pointing out that the team’s roster included players and coaches from ten countries.
“Despite the substantial air travel of professional hockey teams, our sport has been spared from tragic traffic accidents,” Fasel said. “But only until now. This is the darkest day in the history of our sport.”
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin immediately sent the nation’s transport minister to the site, 10 miles east of Yaroslavl.
The plane that crashed was relatively new, built in 1993, and belonged to a small Yak Service company.
Lokomotiv Yaroslavl is a leading force in Russian hockey and finished third in the KHL last year. The team’s coach is Canadian Brad McCrimmon, who took over in May. He was most recently an assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings, and played 18 years in the NHL for Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit, Hartford and Phoenix.
The Russian team also featured several top European players and former NHL stars, including Vasicek and Rachunek of the Czech Republic, Russian defensemen Ruslan Salei and Karlis Skrastins, and Swedish goalie Stefan Liv.
Other players on the roster with NHL ties include Russian forward Alexander Vasyunov, who played for the Devils last season, and Marek, who was drafted by the Kings in 2000.
The KHL is an international club league that features teams from Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Latvia and Slovakia. Lokomotiv was a three-time Russian League champion in 1997, 2002-2003. It took bronze last season.
Bill Jempty, weighing in at OTB Sports, notes that there have been several notable cases involving sports teams killed in plane crashes, including Manchester United (1951), the US figure skating team (1961), the football teams at Marshall and Wichita State (both in 1970), and the Uruguayan rugby team (1972).