43 people died in a Yakovlev Yak-42 plane crash near the city of Yaroslavl in Central Russia on Wednesday afternoon. The majority of victims were members of the local top ice hockey team Lokomotiv.
Of the 45 people on board, only two survived, Russia Today reported at the scene of the tragedy.
The aircraft went down and caught fire shortly after taking to the air. According to preliminary reports, the plane had insufficient lift and hit a beacon tower. An air traffic controller told Itar-Tass, that the aircraft was some 50 to 60 meters above the ground when it tilted to the left and crashed.
The crash site is about 2,500 meters from the runway. The accident happened just next to the Volga River and some fragments of the aircraft and bodies of the victims fell into the water. So far 29 bodies have been recovered from the site, according to local rescue services.
Hockey Club Lokomotiv (KHL) confirmed that its entire 37-strong main squad was on board of the crashed plane. The hockey team was traveling to the Belarusian capital Minsk.
Some of the victims were foreign players for the club. The squad included players from the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Sweden.
The two survivors are in a serious condition and have been taken to hospital.
One of the survivors is a hockey team member Aleksandr Galimov.
The other survivor is a flight engineer, according to preliminary reports.
“Galimov has burns to 80 per cent of his body, the crew member has broken bones and lacerations in addition to massive burns,” Dr. Viktor Berezing from the hospital’s burn trauma department told Interfax.
Russian aviation authorities said the Yak-42 underwent all the routine checks before being cleared for the flight and was in good condition.
The today plane crash is the first-ever fatal crash involving a sports team in modern Russia.
Soviet Union’s worst incident of this kind was the 1979 mid-air collision of two Tupolev Tu-134s in Dniprodzerzhynsk, Ukraine. Seventeen players and staff of the then-Soviet top-division Pakhtakor Football Club team died in the crash.
The Yaroslavl HC Lokomotiv team was Russian Champions in 1997, 2002 and 2003.
The top hockey squad was to play a match against Minsk HC Dinamo on Thursday.
The heads of the Lokomotiv hockey club are currently in an urgent meeting to discuss the measures to be taken following the tragic crash and death of the Yaroslavl team.
The Salavat Ulaev versus Atlant match, which is the opening battle of the league season, was cancelled by this time.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is to visit the crash site on Thursday. Medvedev offered his condolences to the relatives of the victims and to fans of the club over the tragedy.
Visitors of the International Political Forum, who are visiting Yaroslavl at the moment, held a minute’s silence to commemorate the victims of the crash. The Russian Hockey Federation voiced its condolences to the Lokomotiv club, the families of the victims and the entire ice hockey community.
Hockey fans in Moscow are gathering in Red Square near the Kremlin to honor the deceased Lokomotiv players and the other victims of the crash.
In Minsk, people are laying flowers in front of the stadium where the team was scheduled to play on Thursday. Yaroslavl fans are meeting at one of the city’s squares to mark the loss of their team.
Russia’s Investigative Committee has launched a criminal investigation into the incident and sent a team of forensic experts from Moscow to Yaroslavl, according to the spokesman for the committee, Vladimir Markin.
The Interstate Aviation Committee, a regional regulating body, has launched its own probe into the cause of the crash.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin ordered Transport Minister Igor Levitin to organize the initial part of the investigation at the scene.