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Dozens killed as Russian plane carrying hockey team crashes

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Plane with hockey team onboard crashes
  • The crash is "a catastrophic loss to the hockey world," NHL commissioner says
  • Eleven of 45 people on board the plane were foreigners, Russian officials say
  • Russian official says two survived crash in Yaroslavl, northeast of Moscow
  • The plane crashes on takeoff from Yaroslavl airport bound for Minsk, Belarus

Moscow (CNN) -- A plane carrying a hockey team with international players, including some NHL veterans, crashed as it took off Wednesday afternoon from Russia's Yaroslavl airport, killing at least 43 people, Russian emergency officials said.

The Yak-42 aircraft was taking players for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl -- one of Russia's leading ice hockey teams -- to Minsk, the Belarusian capital, the Russian aviation authority told CNN.

Two of the 45 people aboard the plane, which included eight crew members, survived, a Russian Emergency Situations Ministry representative said. Eleven of those on the aircraft were foreigners, the ministry said.

Yaroslavl's regional governor, Sergei Vakhrukov, named the two survivors as Russian forward Alexander Galimov and flight crew member Alexander Sizov. Both are being treated in intensive care. Plane crash darkens hockey's grim summer

Thirty-five bodies have been recovered from the crash site so far, the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry said, and the search for those still missing continued into the night.

Many of the bodies were recovered from the Volga River after the plane crashed on its banks near the airport, the ministry said.

The Lokomotiv team, which was scheduled to play a match Thursday in the new Kontinental Hockey League, had a number of players with ties to the National Hockey League. cited Russia's Sov Sport website as confirming that the entire main roster of the team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl was on the plane, along with four players from the youth team. NHL feels loss of plane crash

The team's head coach, Brad McCrimmon, 52, who was born in Canada, previously played in the NHL and was an assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings, said.

Others who played in the NHL included Karel Rachunek, 32, a Czech native; Ruslan Salei, 36, from Belarus; Karlis Skrastins, 37, from Latvia; Pavol Demitra, 36, from Slovakia; and Josef Vasicek, 30, from the Czech Republic.

Demitra was a former Minnesota Wild and Vancouver Canucks center, RIA Novosti reported, while fellow center Vasicek was formerly with the New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes. Salei previously played for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, Colorado Avalanche and the Red Wings. Team tragedies

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the crash "represents a catastrophic loss to the hockey world -- including the NHL family, which lost so many fathers, sons, teammates and friends who at one time excelled in our league. Our deepest condolences go to the families and loved ones of all who perished."

Lou Lamoriello, president of the New Jersey Devils, paid tribute to Alexander Vasyunov, a forward who played for the club last season, as "an outstanding young man and a gifted athlete."

Rachunek also played for the Devils in 2007-08, Lamoriello said, adding: "Both were members of the Devils family."

The Russian Hockey Federation expressed "its deepest condolences to the bereaved families and relatives, fans and the entire hockey community" in a statement on its website.

A Kontinental Hockey League statement said: "We are only beginning to understand the impact of this tragedy affecting the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl club on the friends we've lost and the international hockey community.

"First and foremost, our condolences go out to the families of the players, coaches and staff lost in today's tragedy. We know that there are many in the KHL family who will be grieving with us."

A national championship ice hockey match between Salavat Yulayev and Atlant was halted in the city of Ufa after reports of the crash.

Players from both teams and spectators observed a moment of silence before leaving the stadium. Many in the audience were crying, Russian state TV footage showed.

The president of the Russian national hockey league, Alexander Medvedev, took the microphone at the stadium to say representatives from both clubs had asked to call off the match because they had ties to those at Lokomotiv.

He said: "I would like to assure you that we'll do everything we can to make sure that the first-class ice hockey in Yaroslavl will continue and that the Lokomotiv club will remain as one of the strongest clubs in our Kontinental Hockey League."

An aviation agency spokesman, Sergei Izvolsky, told CNN the crash occurred around 4 p.m. (8 a.m. ET) during takeoff because the plane couldn't reach a safe altitude fast enough.

The aircraft collided with the antenna of the airport beacon, fell to the ground and broke into several pieces and caught fire, Izvolsky said.

It was a charter flight with a plane operated by Yak-Service Airlines, he said. Yaroslavl is about 155 miles (250 kilometers) northeast of Moscow.

The Yakovlev Yak-42 was in proper technical order, the Russian Federal Aviation Agency's press officer, Andrei Pryanishnikov, told CNN. The plane went through cursory maintenance service before departure to Yaroslavl and fully complied with all safety standards, he said. The last time it underwent regular maintenance service was on August 16 in the city of Kazan.

Pryanishnikov said the plane was manufactured in 1993 and was certified airworthy until October 1.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev instructed the country's Investigative Committee and other law enforcement agencies to probe the crash.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin also asked Transport Minister Igor Levitin to go to the scene to organize efforts to examine the cause of the crash, Putin's press office reported.

The crash came as an international political forum opened in Yaroslavl, with participants expected to include Medvedev, the prime ministers of France, Spain and Italy and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.

Medvedev plans to visit the crash scene to pay tribute to the victims before attending the forum Thursday, the Kremlin press office said.

CNN's Maxim Tkachenko, David Close, Josh Levs, Jennifer Deaton and Laura Smith-Spark contributed to this report.