ZURICH – The gruesome process of identifying the bodies began late on Wednesday and continued on Thursday morning. 43 people, including 36 from the KHL Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey club, died in the crash, the worst ever in the history of ice hockey.
The Yakovlev Yak-42 airplane had just taken off from Yaroslavl’s Tunoshna Airport and was heading towards the Belarusian capital Minsk for the club’s opening KHL season game against Dynamo Minsk on Thursday.
The plane crashed shortly after take-off, only some two kilometres from the runway, after experiencing immediate problems. The initial reports from various news sources and the Russian Ice Hockey Federation claimed that all passengers perished, with one of the co-pilots being very seriously injured. The first bulletins reported 34 people dead, but the number had increased to 43 three hours after accident, 35 members of the Lokomotiv hockey club and seven crew.
It was reported that Yaroslavl-born Alexander Galimov was among the survivors, and reports which said that the 26-year-old Russian forward and died of his severe injuries in hospital a few hours after the crash, were later denied.
Galimov was still fighting for survival in the hospital on Thursday morning. He has 80% body burns.
The list of the confirmed dead included 2010 Vancouver Olympics All-Star, Slovak Pavol Demitra, Czech 2010 World Champions Jan Marek and Josef Vasicek, 2011 World U20 Champions, Russians Daniil Sobchenko and Yuri Urychev, Swedish national team goaltender Stefan Liv, Canadian coach Brad McCrimmon, Latvian national team defenseman Karlis Skrastins and German national team defenseman Robert Dietrich.
Later, the Ministry of Emergency (MCS) confirmed that also Belarusian national team defenseman Ruslan Salei was among the killed in crash.
The plane took off at 16:05 local time from the Tunoshna airport, but it did not reach its projected altitude and crashed into a radar.
“This is a terrible tragedy for the global ice hockey community with so many nationalities involved,” said IIHF President René Fasel, who immediately called the Russian Ice Hockey Federation and KHL officials to offer condolences. “Our thoughts and prayers are with family and friends of the victims.”
“Despite the substantial air travel of professional hockey teams, our sport has been spared from tragic traffic accidents,” Fasel added. “But only until now. This is the darkest day in the history of our sport. This is not only a Russian tragedy, the Lokomotiv roster included players and coaches from ten nations.”
President Fasel had an earlier scheduled trip to Russia on Thursday. He has informed IIHF.com that he will stick to his travel plans and take the opportunity to mourn the dead together with Russian ice hockey and sport authorities, as well as seek more information about the extent of the casualties.
Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, coached by former NHL defenceman, Canadian Brad McCrimmon, has been one of Russia’s most successful post-Soviet clubs, winning the national championship in 1997 (as Torpedo Yaroslavl), 2002 and 2003. They also won the silver medal in the 2003 IIHF Continental Cup.
“At first we didn't want to believe it,” said a Lokomotiv media official. “But right now there is no hope.”
He also said that everyone from the main roster and four junior players were on the plane.
The Kontinental Hockey League opened its season on Wednesday with defending champion Salavat Yulayev Ufa hosting Atlant Mytishi. The game was underway when the airplane crash in Yaroslavl happened and was abandoned when news of the crash broke.
The decision KHL President and IIHF Council Member Alexander Medvedev announced on the ice was greeted with respectful applause from the crowd.
“We will do all that we can to ensure that top level hockey continues in Yaroslavl and that Lokomotiv remains one of the strongest clubs in the Kontinental Hockey League,” Medvedev said.
Some hours after the crash mourning fans started to gather outside of Lokomotiv's home stadium, Arena 2000. The President of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation, Vladislav Tretiak, said in one of his statements that it will not use the Yak-42 aircraft for the Russian national team.
Lokomotiv Yaroslavl’s season opening roster carried players from Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Germany, Latvia, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Sweden.
The Lokomotiv Yaroslavl roster:
Stefan Liv (SWE)
Olexander Vyukhin (UKR)
Vitali Anikeyenko (RUS)
Mikhail Balandin (RUS)
Robert Dietrich (GER/KAZ)
Marat Kalimulin (RUS)
Karel Rachunek (CZE)
Ruslan Salei (BLR)
Maxim Shuvalov (RUS)
Karlis Skrastins (LAT)
Pavel Trakhanov (RUS)
Yuri Urychev (RUS)
Gennadi Churilov (RUS)
Pavol Demitra (SVK)
Alexander Galimov (RUS)
Alexander Kalyanin (RUS)
Andrei Kiryukhin (RUS)
Nikita Klyukin (RUS)
Jan Marek (CZE)
Sergei Ostapchuk (BLR)
Pavel Snurnitsyn (RUS)
Danil Sobchenko (UKR)
Ivan Tkachenko (RUS)
Josef Vasicek (CZE)
Alexander Vasyunov (RUS)
Artyom Yarchuk (RUS)
Brad McCrimmon (CAN, head coach)
Alexander Karpovtsev (RUS, assistant coach)
Igor Korolev (RUS, assistant coach)
Footnote: This is the biggest single tragedy in the history of ice hockey. On January 7, 1950, the Moscow VVS team crashed near Sverdlovsk on its way to a league game. All 19 on board, 11 of them VVS players, died. On November 8, 1948, five Czechoslovak national team members died in plane crash in the English Channel, among them IIHF Hall of Famer, Ladislav Trojak.