100,000 mourn Russian hockey team crash victims

10th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Saturday joined a reported 100,000 mourners gathered at the hockey arena in Yaroslavl to pay their respects to the local team who perished in a plane crash this week.

Athletes from fellow Russian teams, hockey officials and fans were among the 35,000 who packed into the arena for an hours-long ceremony and lay flowers along the row of coffins set up on the rink with the players' photos.

Russian television showed a sombrely-dressed Putin laying red carnations next to each casket.

In the square in front of the stadium, thousands more waited patiently under umbrellas to get inside.

An interior ministry spokesman quoted by the Ria Novosti news agency said a total of about 100,000 had come to pay their respects to the three-time Russian champions.

Lokomotiv were leaving the local airport about 300 kilometres (185 miles) north of Moscow Wednesday when their Yak-42 plane failed to gain altitude after take-off and went down in a small river, killing 43 on board.

Only two people, Lokomotiv winger Alexander Galimov and crew member Alexander Sizov, survived the crash and remain in critical condition.

Lokomotiv's Kontinental Hockey League set up a live stream from the memorial ceremony with two commentators reading the players' biographies and achievements in shaky voices to the backdrop of sombre music.

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 included seven foreign players, including Swedish Olympic champion Stefan Liv.

The bodies of Czech players Jan Marek, Karel Rachunek and Josef Vasicek were repatriated overnight, the Czech army said.

An official funeral service was to be held Sunday afternoon at Prague's Old Town square and mass to be celebrated by Prague Archbishop Dominik Duka.

The reasons for Russia's worst sporting disaster were still unclear two days after Russia's Interstate Aviation Committee (MAK) 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.

On Saturday, a similar aircraft from the same charter company was grounded just before taking off from Turkey.

Russia's transportation watchdog Rostransnadzor earlier grounded three Yak-42 planes and ordered their owners to make safety checks.

There were a total of 184 such planes made, mostly in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

© 2011 AFP

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