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Ice hockey team wiped out as 43 die in jet crash.

Byline: MIKE JONES

A PRIVATE Russian jet carrying a top ice hockey team slammed into a riverbank moments after take-off yesterday, 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 in one catastrophic event. Two other people on board were critically injured.

The Russians 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.

Russian media said the plane struggled to gain altitude and then crashed into a signal tower, shattering into pieces. Russian television showed a flaming fragment of the plane in the river as divers worked feverishly to recover bodies. The plane was carrying the Lokomotiv ice hockey team from Yaroslavl to Minsk, capital of Belarus, where the team was to play 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.

The Emergency Ministry said Czech players Josef Vasicek, Karel Rachunek and Jan Marek, Swedish goalie Stefan Liv, Canadian coach Brad McCrimmon, Latvian defenceman Karlis Skrastins and defenceman Ruslan Salehi, of Belarus, were among those killed. Slovakian national team captain Pavol Demitra, who played in North America in the NHL for the St Louis Blues and the Vancouver Canucks, was also among the dead, officials said.

"Though it occurred thousands of miles away from our home arenas, this tragedy represents a catastrophic loss to the hockey world," said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

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

"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 sport songs in memory of the athletes.

Yaroslavl governor Sergei Vakhrukov promised the crowd that the Lokomotiv team would be rebuilt from scratch, prompting anger from some fans at a perceived lack of respect for the dead.

Russia was hoping to showcase Yaroslavl as a modern and vibrant city this week at an international forum attended by heads of state, including Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

In recent years, Russia and the other former Soviet republics have had some of the world's worst air traffic 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.

CAPTION(S):

* Rescuers work at the crash site near the city of Yaroslavl, on the Volga River about 150 miles northeast of Moscow yesterday
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EXRU
Date:Sep 8, 2011
Words:521
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