Dashed hopes as Russia buries last hockey crash survivor

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Ten thousand Russian mourners on Tuesday paid their last respects to the only player from a top ice hockey team who survived a plane crash last week, only to succumb to horrific burns days later.

Alexander Galimov, the 26-year-old winger with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team, was one of just two survivors when an ageing Yak-42 plane crashed outside the central Russian city of Yaroslavl last week, killing 43.

The instant loss of the three-time Russian champion team prompted a tremendous outpouring of grief among Russians, especially in the team's homebase of Yaroslavl.

Supporters had hoped for a miracle, praying that Galimov would recover despite burns covering 90 percent of his body and setting up a special website dedicated to the team's only player to survive the crash.

Following the crash Galimov was transferred to one of Russia's best burns units in Moscow but died on Monday.

"All of us -- the whole country -- believed, hoped and prayed that Sasha would survive," governor of the Yaroslavl region, Sergei Vakhrukov, said at the ceremony in the team's home arena in Yaroslavl, using the player's nickname.

"He could not make it. This is a very heavy loss," Vakhrukov said in comments released by his office.

"He loved the fans and the fans worshipped him," the governor said.

Around 10,000 people turned up at the ice arena to pay their last respects to Galimov, who was buried later that day, Vakhrukov's spokeswoman told AFP.

The player is survived by his wife and daughter.

On Saturday, around 100,000 mourners came to the ice arena to pay their respects to the dead players. Among the mourners was Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, considered the country's paramount leader, who placed red carnations beside each casket.

Crew member Alexander Sizov, who is now undergoing treatment in a top Moscow hospital, is now the crash's only survivor. He suffered far less extensive burns than Galimov but doctors expect him to remain hospitalised for at least a month.

The crash prompted Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev to order his government Sunday to shut down unreliable airlines and raise penalties for air safety violations.

But he stopped short of sacking top transportation officials, a major disappointment to those who had called for his transport minister Igor Levitin to be fired after a string of deadly disasters.

© 2011 AFP

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