44 killed in Russian hockey team jet crash
Forty-four people were killed Wednesday when a Russian jet carrying an ice hockey team crashed on take-off, leaving only on survivor in the latest blow to the country's tainted air safety record.
The chartered Yak-42 passenger jet took off from Yaroslavl airport some 300 kilometres (185 miles) northeast of Moscow just as a two-day political forum expected to be attended by President Dmitry Medvedev got underway.
A source told Interfax that the plane suddenly start listing to the left and crashed about 500 metres (yards) away from the Tunoshna airport.
"According to the latest data, there were 45 people on board -- 37 passengers and eight crew. Forty-four people died in the crash and one person survived," a police official told the RIA Novosti news agency.
The local emergencies ministry said the jet was taking members of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl ice hockey team to the Belarus capital Minsk for the their first match of the 2011-2012 season.
The team is trained by Canada's Brad McCrimmon -- a former assistant coach with the NHL's Detroit Red Wings -- and has several foreign players on the roster posted on its website.
The Swedish embassy said that one of its nationals, a hockey goalie, had been killed in the crash.
The crash also revived memories of an August 1979 disaster that claimed the lives of 17 football players from the Tashkent side Pakhtakor.
Russia has experienced another summer full of mishaps that have for the first time also seriously impacted the country's once-proud space programme.
Two accidents involving Tu-134 and An-24 jets this summer that killed a total 54 people prompted Medvedev to call for most of the aircraft to be retired by January 1 and the rest taken out in subsequent months.
But that move was followed by a series of smaller air accidents as well as a Volga River boat disaster that killed 122 people who were taking a pleasure cruise.
And a series of space launches have prompted Russia to ground its most famous rockets in a move that now threatens to leave the International Space Station abandoned for the first time in 10 years.
This dire record has tarnished Medvedev's vision of the modern Russia he promotes in messages ahead of presidential elections next year that can be also contested by Vladimir Putin -- his more nationalist mentor and prime minister.
Medvedev was due to speak at the forum on Thursday and sent his top political adviser Vladislav Surkov to the scene of the disaster.
Conference participants also held a minute of silence while the country's hockey season kicked off with a somber message from the deputy head of Gazprom -- the company that sponsors Russia's Continental Hockey League (KHL).
"I propose that we honour the memory of the dead with a minute of silence," Gazprom number two Alexander Medvedev said at the season opening in the Ural Mountains city of Ufa.
The match was later abandoned to applause from the crowd.
Three-time Russian champion Lokomotiv Yaroslavl was founded in 1959 and last won the country's title in 2002.
"I am at the airport right now," the team's general manager Yury Lukin told the R-Sport news agency.
"I do not know what they are saying on the news, but things here are very serious," he said.
The team's season roster includes three players from the national squad of the Czech Republic and one player each from the international sides of Slovakia and Sweden.
One investigator at the scene of the investigation said the Yak-42 jet may have had trouble gaining altitude and his a radar antena after takeoff.
© 2011 AFP