A mournful crowd filled the hockey arena in the Russian city of Yaroslavl Saturday to pay their last respects to the local team who perished in a plane crash that killed 43 people this week.
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 almost everyone on board.
An endless stream of people flowed into Lokomotiv’s home arena in Yaroslavl, laying flowers along the row of caskets set up on the rink with the player’s photos.
The square in front of the arena was completely full of people waiting patiently under umbrellas in the rain to get inside.
Athletes from other Russian teams, hockey officials, and thousands of fans were sitting in the spectator seats and wiping away tears during the hours-long ceremony.
Lokomotiv’s Kontinental Hockey League set up a live stream from the 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’s roster had seven foreign players, including Swedish Olympic champion Stefan Liv.
Only two people, Lokomotiv winger Alexander Galimov and crew member Alexander Sizov, survived the crash and remain in critical condition.
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.
Russia’s transportation watchdog Rostransnadzor earlier grounded three Yak-42 planes and ordered their owners to eliminate all violations and improve safety.
There were a total of 184 such planes made, mostly in the late 1980s and early 1990s.