Shock and horror at Russian village after plane crash

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Andrei Gorshkov was coming home from school when he saw a plane and then heard a loud bang. The crash that followed and killed at least 43 people was so horrific that it will haunt him at night.

"It was so scary," the 16-year-old said. "It will all be coming back to me in my sleep."

The Yak-42 carrying a Russian ice hockey team crashed Wednesday into the small river of Tunoshonka running through Gorshkov's village of Tunoshna, just outside the central Russian city of Yaroslavl.

He and his friends saw a huge blaze which immediately turned into smoke and immediately rushed to the scene of the tragedy.

Half the plane was in the water, the other half broke into pieces and was scattered around the shore and the wheels were on fire.

"Everything that was in the plane was floating on the water," Gorshkov told AFP at the sleepy village whose world has been turned upside down by the disaster.

"Two bodies were floating on the water," he said. "The third one was being carried out of the water on stretchers, he had burns all over."

The plane was flying members of three-time Russian champions Lokomotiv Yaroslavl to a season-opening match in the Belarussian capital Minsk when it went down a few moments into the flight some 300 kilometres (185 miles) northeast of Moscow.

Natalia Panova, a doctor at Tunoshna's small hospital, was the first medic at the scene. By the time her ambulance arrived, most were beyond help.

"The plane caught fire and blew up. Someone was without a leg, someone was without a head," she told AFP. "There was blood everywhere, mangled bodies.

I am still shaking."

Panova treated one of two survivors, attending to crew member Alexander Sizov's multiple wounds and fractures and giving him promedol to alleviate severe pain before he was taken to hospital in Yaroslavl.

He was in a state of shock and did not fully realise what had happened, she said, adding: "I don't know how he remained alive."

Another survivor, team member Alexander Galimov, who received extensive burns, was taken away by a boat, she said.

Panova said she herself had seen 16 bodies which were pulled out of the water and placed in rows on the ground.

"I've lived here for 30 years, and I've never seen anything like that," said Panova, a local. "So many people died young. This is a tragedy for the entire country."

By Wednesday evening, the small village was teeming was emergency officials and police who cordoned off the scene of the tragedy.

Many residents came out of their homes, quietly talking to one another or smoking in silence as night fell over the village.

They were joined by hockey fans who trickled in from Yaroslavl, some carrying flowers and crying.

Back in the city, thousands of fans converged on Lokomotiv's ice arena bringing heaps of roses, candles and fan scarves.

President Dmitry Medvedev is expected to visit the venue on Thursday. Ahead of key parliamentary and presidential elections he had been set to address a political conference at the ice arena which has now become a sombre vigil site.

Many fans said the horrific coincidence brought home a simple question: why does not Russia protect its best and brightest?

"Why is this happening?" said Dmitry Luchnikov, who was mourning his close friend, 23-year-old former New Jersey Devils player Alexander Vasyunov.

"Why haven't we got reliable aircraft?"

© 2011 AFP

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