A passenger plane carrying a Russian ice hockey team to a season-opening match crashed after takeoff from a provincial airport on Wednesday, killing 43 people and leaving two survivors in grave condition.

The crash of the Yak-42 aircraft , whose victims included foreign stars playing for the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL)team Lokomotiv, plunged the sports world into grief and marred a showcase political forum featuring President Dmitry Medvedev.

It is likely to increase concerns about Russian aviation safety less than three months after a crash that killed 45.

The Russian-made plane was carrying 37 passengers and eight crew to Minsk in Belarus when it crashed a few kilometers from the airport at Tunoshna outside Yaroslavl, 250 km (150 miles) north of Moscow, the Emergencies Ministry said.

I heard a big bang and then a louder one 10 seconds later, said Andrei Gorshkov, a 16-year-old Tunoshna resident. Flames shot high and a column of black smoke rose into the air.

He said he had seen the plane about 300 meters over the village, its nose pointing at a downward angle, then lost sight of it as it fell.

When he ran to the site, he said, The wheel assembly was burning, half the plane was in the water, seats were floating and two people lay dead.

Two people survived and were hospitalized, ministry official Sergei Miroshnichenko said. Lokomotiv offenceman Alexander Galimov was in critical condition with burns over 90 percent of his body, a doctor at the hospital said.

At the scene, a broken piece of the plane's light-blue fuselage lay half-submerged in a river on the edge of Tunoshna, a village near the airport, which has the same name.

A police boat plied the waters and emergency workers waded in the shallows near a fire engine on shore. A few modest wooden houses stood just meters (yards) from the crash site.

The Interfax news agency cited a security official as saying the plane caught fire after the crash.

Citing an official at the state aviation agency Rosaviatsia, Interfax reported that the plane had trouble gaining altitude and hit an antenna beyond the runway.

The crash occurred while Russia was hosting an international political forum in Yaroslavl that Medvedev, who has said he may run for a second term as president in March, was expected to address on Thursday.

Medvedev's spokeswoman, Natalya Timakova, said he expressed his condolences and would alter his plans for the forum and visit the site of the crash, which came less than three months after a jet crash in northern Russia killed 45 people.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin ordered Transport Minister Igor Levitin to travel to the crash site on Wednesday and Medvedev sent his first deputy chief of staff, Vladislav Surkov.

The crash was Russia's deadliest since June, when a Tupolev Tu-134 jet slammed into a roadside while trying to land in fog in the northern Russian city of Petrozavodsk, killing 45 people.

In April 2010, Polish President Lech Kaczynski's Russian-built plane crashed near the western city of Smolensk in a thick fog, killing him and all 95 others on board.