Ice hockey world mourns Yaroslavl air crash in Russia

The BBC's Steve Rosenberg says Dmitry Medvedev has vowed to take action on aviation safety

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Ice hockey fans from around the world are mourning after a plane crash in Russia wiped out most players from the major league team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visited the crash scene and promised a full investigation into the accident, the causes of which are not yet known.

Thousands of fans gathered in Yaroslavl to pay their respects, many dressed in team colours with scarves and flags.

Some 36 players and officials died in the crash, along with seven crew.

The dead included the team's Canadian coach, Brad McCrimmon, and Swedish Olympic champion goalie Stefan Liv. One player and one crew member escaped with severe injuries.

The BBC's Steve Rosenberg in Yaroslavl says people arrived at the hockey stadium throughout the night, lighting candles in memory of the players.

Lokomotiv Yaroslavl

  • Founded: 1949. Renamed six times before reverting to founding name in 2000
  • Home city: Yaroslavl; 250km north-east of Moscow
  • Stadium: Arena 2000, capacity 9,000
  • Honours: Three-time Russian champions (1997, 2002, 2003)

The first round of fixtures in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) was postponed as the sport tries to deal with the tragedy.

Russian hockey boss Alexander Medvedev said that each team in the league should give at least one player to rebuild the Lokomotiv squad.

"The 18 KHL clubs whose representatives I have managed to speak with have supported this proposal," he told local media.

Former Soviet Union captain Vyacheslav Fetisov said all teams in the league were behind the plan.

"Lokomotiv will be reborn, it has to continue playing in the league," he told the Izvestia newspaper.

President Dmitry Medvedev went to the banks of the River Tunoshna, where the wreckage was recovered, to pay his respects.

Among the dead

Karel Rachunek, playing for the New Jersey Devils in 2007
  • Stefan Liv, team goalie, former Swedish Olympic champion
  • Brad McCrimmon, team coach, Canadian former NHL player
  • Czech Republic players Josef Vasicek, Karel Rachunek and Jan Marek
  • Latvian player Karlis Skrastins
  • Slovak player Pavol Demitra

He laid red roses on the banks and bowed his head in silence for one minute.

"This is a shock for the entire country. I've given an order... to conduct a thorough investigation," he said later.

"The situation remains unfortunate, and a string of air crashes which happened this summer shows that. We cannot go on like that."

'Catastrophic loss'

Around the world, fans have been paying tribute to their players who died.

In Slovakia, fans lit candles for their star player Pavol Demitra, while Czechs paid similar respects in the Old Town Square in Prague to honour their three compatriots killed in the crash: Josef Vasicek, Karel Rachunek and Jan Marek.

World ice hockey chief Rene Fasel said the crash in Yaroslavl was "the darkest day in the history of our sport".

A number of those who died had played in the US.

Gary Bettman, of the North American National Hockey League (NHL), said the crash represented a "catastrophic loss to the hockey world".

The aircraft was heading to Belarus for the season's first match when it crashed at 16:05 (13:05 GMT) on Wednesday.

The jet then burst into flames, with some of the wreckage and bodies falling in the nearby River Tunoshna, a tributary of the Volga.

A local policeman told the BBC Russian service he had seen the plane come down.

Yuri Maloveryan, from the BBC Russian Service, was at the scene shortly after the crash

He said the plane had barely taken off before it plunged to the ground, and he saw "flames as high as a nine-storey building".

Russian aviation officials were quoted as saying the Yak-42 jet had failed to gain height and hit a radio mast, breaking up and catching fire.

They said the jet entered service in 1993 and had a certificate of airworthiness valid until 1 October 2011.

President Medvedev has promised to overhaul the industry and take out of service ageing jets from the Soviet era.

The country has a poor aviation safety record. In July this year a passenger plane crashed in northern Russia and 44 people died.

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