|Members of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl ice hockey team were aboard flight to Belarus for first season match [Reuters]|
A Russian passenger jet carrying ice hockey players to their first match of the season has crashed near the city of Yaroslavl, killing at least 43 people.
Initial reports said 37 people were on board the plane. But officials at Russia’s Emergency Situations Ministry have corrected the figure since, saying 45 passengers were on board the plane, only two of whom survived.
The Yak-42 passenger jet took off from Yaroslavl airport about 300km northeast of Moscow, before crashing.
Officials at the Ministry said the plane was carrying the Lokomotiv ice hockey team from Yaroslavl to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, where the team was to play on Thursday against Dinamo Minsk in the opening game of the season for the Kontinental Hockey League.
The Ministry said Czech players Josef Vasicek, Karel Rachunek and Jan Marek, Swedish goalie Stefan Liv, Canadian coach Brad McCrimmon, Latvian defenseman Karlis Skrastins and defenceman Ruslan Salehi of Belarus were among those killed.
Slovakian national team captain Pavol Demitra, who played in the NHL for the St. Louis Blues and the Vancouver Canucks, was also among the dead, officials said.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin immediately sent the nation’s transport minister to the site of the crash, 15km east of Yaroslavl.
“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,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement.
Russian NHL star Alex Ovechkin tweeted: “I’m in shock!!!!!R.I.P …” Officials said Russian player Alexander Galimov survived the crash along with a crewmember.
Lokomotiv Yaroslavl is a leading force in Russian hockey and came third in the KHL last year. It was also a three-time Russian League champion in 1997, 2002 and 2003.
The KHL is an international club league that pits together teams from Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Latvia and Slovakia.
A cup match between hockey teams Salavat Yulaev and Atlant in the central Russian city of Ufa was called off midway after news of the crash was announced by Kontinental Hockey League chief Alexander Medvedev. Russian television showed an empty arena in Ufa as grief-stricken fans abandoned the stadium.
President Dmitry Medvedev has announced plans to take aging Soviet built planes out of service starting in 2012.
The short- and medium-range Yak-42 has been in service since 1980 and dozens are still in service with Russian and other airlines.
In June, another Russian passenger jet crashed in the northwestern city of Petrozavodsk, killing 47 people. The crash of that Tu-134 plane has been blamed on pilot error.