|The Yak-42 jet crashed into a bank of the River Volga near the city of Yaroslavl shortly after takeoff [EPA/NTV]
Forty-three people have been killed after a Russian aircraft carrying ice hockey players to their first match of the season crashed near the city of Yaroslavl.
Several former Olympic and NHL stars were among the 36 players killed in the accident on Wednesday.
"This is the darkest day in the history of our sport," Rene Fasel, the head of the International Ice Hockey Federation, said.
"This is not only a Russian tragedy. It's a terrible tragedy for the global ice hockey community".
The chief local surgeon told Channel One television that one Russian player, identified as Alexander Galimov, and a crew member had survived but were in grave condition.
The Yak-42 was flying members of three-time Russian champions Lokomotiv Yaroslavl to a game in the Belarussian capital Minsk when it went down about 300km northeast of Moscow.
Among those killed were the team's Canadian coach Brad McCrimmon, a former assistant with the NHL's Detroit Red Wings; goalie Stefan Liv, who is a former Swedish Olympic champion; and Pavol Demitra, the Slovakian national captain and a former NHL star.
"Though it occurred thousands of miles away from our home arenas, this tragedy represents a catastrophic loss to the hockey world, including the NHL family, which lost so many fathers, sons, teammates and friends who at one time excelled in our league," Gary Bettman, the NHL commissioner, said.
Russian President Dmitri Medvedev toured the crash site on Thursday, laying flowers and viewing wreckage still
left on the banks of the Volga river.
The local emergencies ministry said the jet began listing to the left only seconds into the afternoon flight and crashed about 500m from the Tunoshna airport.
Initial reports said the jet may have hit a local radar antenna.
Investigators searched for flight recorders in the shattered remains of the aircraft.
The recorders could provide key information explaining why the plane crashed. The Interstate Aviation Committee said the recorders were believed to be in the tail section of the jet, which was partly submerged in the river.
"The plane failed to reach the required altitude, hit an obstacle and started falling to pieces. It burst into flames on impact," a local police official was quoted as saying.
Natalia Panova, a doctor at Tunoshna's small hospital, was the first medic at the scene. By the time her ambulance arrived, most were beyond help.
"There was blood everywhere, mangled bodies. I am still shaking," she told the AFP news agency.
Poor safety record
Medvedev criticised Russia's poor record on aviation safety and demanded a through investigation into the crash.
"I've given an order to the Investigative Committee and the government to conduct a thorough investigation," he told officials. "The situation remains unfortunate, and a string of air crashes which happened this summer shows that. We cannot go on like that."
The crash occurred near the site of an annual political conference to be attended by Medvedev in the run-up to parliamentary and presidential elections.
By grim coincidence, Medvedev was set to speak from Lokomotiv's ice hockey arena which has been turned into the forum venue for the two-day event.
The disaster comes on the heels of a summer full of deadly Russian transport mishaps.
Two accidents involving Tu-134 and An-24 jets killed a total of 54 people and prompted Medvedev to call for most of the aircraft to be retired by January 1.
That move was followed by a series of smaller air accidents, as well as a Volga River boat sinking that killed 122 people out on a pleasure cruise.