|Mourners filled Lokomotiv's home arena in Yaroslavl on Saturday [Reuters]
With flowers and tears, tens of thousands of people have flocked to a memorial ceremony for the victims of the Russian plane crash that devastated a top ice hockey team.
Mourners including Vladimir Putin, Russia's prime minister, poured into the team's arena in the western city of Yaroslavl on Saturday to lay flowers near coffins containing remains of players and staff of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team. Many fans were draped in scarves in the team's colors.
Wednesday's crash of a chartered Yak-42 jet killed 43 people and was one of the sports world's worst aviation disasters, shocking Russia and the international hockey community. Of the 45 people on board, 36 were Lokomotiv players, coaches and team officials, including many European and former NHL players.
The somber-faced Putin walked slowly across the arena, laying flowers at each of the coffins.
Emotions were especially raw in Yaroslavl, where the team's consistently strong performance in the Kontinental Hockey League was a source of pride. The team had been heading to Minsk, Belarus, to play its opening game of the KLH season. Several KHL ice hockey squads traveled to Yaroslavl to attend the ceremony.
The Russian-based Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), the international league in which Lokomotiv competed, set up a live stream from the ceremony with two commentators reading the players' biographies and achievements in shaky voices to the backdrop of sombre music.
The KHL has postponed the start of its season following the disaster.
A funeral service for several players was held earlier at Yaroslavl's Uspensky cathedral, attended by close relatives.
Funerals are expected to be held later across Russia and in other countries as the athletes' bodies are returned to their home towns. The team's roster had seven foreign players, including Swedish Olympic champion Stefan Liv.
Only two people, Lokomotiv winger Alexander Galimov and crew member Alexander Sizov, survived the crash and remain in critical condition.
The reasons for Russia's worst sporting disaster were still unclear two days after Russia's Interstate Aviation Committee received the Yak-42's flight recorders.
Officials have so far determined merely that the plane's engines and flaps were working until the crash and have found no malfunctions yet that would explain the jet's failure to gain altitude.
Russia's transportation watchdog earlier grounded three Yak-42 planes and ordered their owners to eliminate all violations and improve safety.
There were a total of 184 such planes made, mostly in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, has called for sweeping reforms to the country's aviation industry, including replacing aging Russian jets with Western planes.