Russia to pay last respects to ice hockey team in stadium

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The Russian city mourning the loss of its ice hockey team in a plane disaster will pay its last respects with a memorial ceremony at the team's stadium, the regional governor said Friday.

An ageing Yak-42 plane carrying three-time Russian champions Lokomotiv Yaroslavl -- a popular team with several ex-NHL stars on its roster -- crashed on Wednesday near Yaroslavl, 300 kilometres (185 miles) northeast of Moscow.

The public are invited to pay their last respects in the team's home arena on Saturday, the governor of the Yaroslavl region, Sergei Vakhrukov, told journalists, with fans expected to travel from other Russian regions.

"Lots of neighbours will come to us," he said.

Fans, many wearing team scarves, have piled flowers and lit candles outside the team's Arena-2000 home stadium in a spontaneous outpouring of grief following the crash.

The accident, which killed 43, was the worst sporting disaster in the country's recent memory, claiming the lives of several international players who played in the National Hockey League and previously won Olympic medals.

The crash's two survivors -- player Alexander Galimov and crew member Alexander Sizov -- are being treated in Moscow.

Galimov was still alive on Friday morning, Vakhrukov confirmed, calling him by his nickname Sasha, with hopes that he would survive despite suffering serious burns.

"We believe that Sasha has a chance of making it," he said.

The plane's black boxes have been found, Vakhrukov added.

"The black boxes were pulled out yesterday. They are in a normal state," told journalists, adding that they had been sent to Moscow for deciphering.

The interstate aviation committee that investigates air accidents confirmed in a statement on Friday that it had been able to open the black boxes and found the recording of the fatal flight.

Officials have so far blamed the tragedy on pilot error and aircraft malfunction -- the usual suspects in past tragedies -- and President Dmitry Medvedev has demanded that aviation companies improve their safety standards.

© 2011 AFP

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