Russian Plane Carrying KHL Team Crashes

Russian Plane Carrying KHL Team Crashes

MOSCOW — At least 44 people were killed Wednesday when a Russian jet carrying hockey players to their first match of the season crashed on takeoff in the latest blow to the country’s tainted air safety record.

The Yak-42 passenger jet took off from Yaroslavl airport about 300 kilometres northeast of Moscow just as a two-day political forum expected to be attended by President Dmitry Medvedev got under way.

A source told Interfax that the plane suddenly start listing to the left and crashed about 500 metres away from the Tunoshna airport.

“According to the latest data, there were 45 people on board — 37 passengers and eight crew. Forty-four people died in the crash and one person survived,” a police official told the RIA Novosti news agency.

The local emergencies ministry said the jet was taking members of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl ice hockey team to the Belarus capital Minsk for the their first match of the 2011-2012 season.

The team is coached by Canadian Brad McCrimmon and has several foreign players on the roster posted on its website.

Former NHL star Pavol Demitra’s agent, Matt Keator, confirmed to the Associated Press that his client was one of the players killed in the crash.

“This is just awful,” Keator said. “He was such a popular guy with everyone he has ever played with.”

The Czech Republic’s Josef Vasicek, Jan Marek and Karel Rachunek, as well as Swedish Olympic champion Stefan Liv have also been confirmed to have died in the crash.

The Czech Republic’s Josef Vasicek, Jan Marek and Karel Rachunek, as well as Swedish Olympic champion Stefan Liv have also been confirmed to have died in the crash.

Two accidents involving Tu-134 and An-24 jets this summer that killed a total 54 people prompted Medvedev to call for most of the aircraft to be retired by January 1 and the rest taken out in subsequent months.

But that move was followed by a series of smaller air accidents as well as a Volga River boat disaster that killed 122 people who were taking a pleasure cruise.

The accidents have tarnished Medvedev’s vision of a modern Russia that he promotes in messages ahead of presidential elections next year that can be also contested by Vladimir Putin — his more nationalist mentor and prime minister.

Medvedev was due to speak at the forum on Thursday and sent his top political adviser Vladislav Surkov to the scene of the disaster.

A Kremlin spokeswoman said Medvedev himself would arrive in Yaroslavl later Wednesday.

Conference participants also held a minute of silence while the country’s hockey season kicked off with a somber message from the deputy head of Gazprom — the company that sponsors Russia’s Continental Hockey League (KHL).

“I propose that we honour the memory of the dead with a minute of silence,” Gazprom number two Alexander Medvedev said at the season opening in the Ural Mountains city of Ufa.

The match was later abandoned to applause from the crowd.

Three-time Russian champion Lokomotiv Yaroslavl was founded in 1959 and last won the country’s title in 2002

“I am at the airport right now,” the team’s general manager Yury Lukin told the R-Sport news agency.

“I do not know what they are saying on the news, but things here are very serious,” he said.

The start of Russia’s ice hockey league has been delayed in the wake of Wednesday’s crash.

Lokomotiv Yaroslavl were scheduled to start their new KHL season on Thursday with a match at Minsk against local side Dynamo.

The club, which was founded in 1959, won the Russian title in 1997, 2002 and 2003, clinching the league’s silver medal in 2008 and 2009.

Yaroslavl also won bronze medals of the Russian league in 1998, 1999, 2005 and 2011.

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