x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Russian ice hockey team players perish in air crash

Several internationals in Lokomotiv team among 44 killed.

Emergency workers search the wreckage of a plane that crashed near the Russian city of Yaroslavl. Reuters
Emergency workers search the wreckage of a plane that crashed near the Russian city of Yaroslavl. Reuters

The start of Russia's ice hockey league season has been postponed after the country's worst-ever sporting tragedy, when a plane crash killed at least 44 people, including members of the three-time Russian champions Lokomotiv team travelling to their first match of the campaign.

"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 10 nations," said Rene Fasel, president of the international Ice Hockey Federation. "This is a terrible tragedy for the global ice hockey community."

Several hundred fans wearing jerseys and scarves gathered in the evening at the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl stadium to pay their respects.

The tragedy happened when a jet crashed on take-off outside the central city of Yaroslavl, and landed in a nearby river. There were 45 people on board - 37 passengers and eight crew - and 43 people died. Alexander Galimov, a player, and one of the stewards survived.

Reports, however, said that Galimov had suffered 80 per cent burns. Ruslan Salei, Lokomotiv's recent signing from the NHL's Detroit Red Wings and the Belarus international, had a lucky escape as he had travelled to Minsk earlier.

Initially the Continental Hockey League (KHL) - which pits together teams from Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Latvia and Slovakia - elected to go ahead with the scheduled first match between the champions Ufa and last season's runners-up Mytishchi.

But after details of the full extent of the accident were confirmed the match was stopped before the first intermission.

"In such a situation the players of both teams considered playing after their friends and colleagues died to be absolutely impossible," Alexander Medvedev, the KHL president said. Lokomotiv were scheduled to start their new KHL season today with a match at Minsk against local side Dynamo.

Lokomotiv featured several top European players and former NHL stars, including Slovakian national captain Pavol Demitra, who played for the St Louis Blues and Vancouver Canucsk, Stefan Liv of Sweden, a former Olympic champion, and Czech players Josef Vasicek, Karel Rachunek and Jan Marek.

The team were trained by Canada's Brad McCrimmon, a former assistant coach with the NHL's Detroit Red Wings. He was also killed.