TUNOSHNA, Russia — A private jet carrying a Russian professional hockey team to its first game of the season crashed shortly after takeoff Wednesday, killing 43 people — including European and former NHL players — in one of the worst aviation disasters in sports history. Two people survived the accident.
The crash also was the latest tragedy to befall the sport of hockey — following the sudden, offseason deaths of three of the NHL’s tough-guy enforcers that has shocked fans.
The chartered Yak-42 jet was carrying the team — Lokomotiv Yaroslavl — to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, where it was to play Thursday in its opening game of the Kontinental Hockey League season. Of the 45 people on board, 36 were players, coaches and team officials; eight were crew.
The plane apparently struggled to gain altitude and then hit a signal tower before breaking apart along the Volga River near Yaroslavl, 150 miles (240 kilometers) northeast of Moscow. One of the blue-and-white plane’s charred engines poked through the surface of the shallow water.
“This is the darkest day in the history of our sport,” said Rene Fasel, president of the International Ice Hockey Federation. “This is not only a Russian tragedy — the Lokomotiv roster included players and coaches from 10 nations.”
One player — identified as Russian Alexander Galimov — and one unidentified crew member were hospitalized in “very grave” condition, said Alexander Degyatryov, chief doctor at Yaroslavl’s Solovyov Hospital.
Among the dead were Lokomotiv coach and NHL veteran Brad McCrimmon, a Canadian; assistant coach Alexander Karpovtsev, one of the first Russians to have his name etched on the Stanley Cup as a member of the New York Rangers; and Pavol Demitra, who played for the St. Louis Blues and the Vancouver Canucks and was the Slovakian national team captain.