A Russian passenger airliner chartered by one of the country's best-known hockey teams and carrying numerous veterans of the NHL crashed during takeoff near the city of Yaroslavl Wednesday, killing all but two of the 45 people on board.
The coach of the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv team, Brad McCrimmon, a Canadian who played 18 seasons in the National Hockey League between 1979 and 1997, died in the crash, along with Pavol Demitra, the captain of the Slovakian national team who played 16 seasons for the St. Louis Blues, Vancouver Canucks and three other NHL teams.
Beyond its impact on professional hockey, the crash added to a terrible run of air safety problems in Russia, with eight fatal crashes this year, six of them since June.
The only survivors were Lokomotiv winger Alexander Galimov and flight attendant,Alexander Sizov, who were hospitalized with severe burns.
The tragedy brings to mind other catastrophes that have destroyed sports programs. In 1961, the entire U.S. figure-skating team was killed as it traveled to the world championships in Prague.
This crash is likely to have a severe impact on Russian hockey. Lokomotiv is a three-time Russian champion, winning its last title in 2003. It has also been at the forefront of an effort to rebuild Russian hockey that started with the 2008 formation of the Kontinental Hockey League, or KHL.
The 73-seat aircraft, in use since 1993, was operated by the Moscow-based Yak Service. The company was founded in 1993.
The European Aviation Safety Agency ranked Yak Service in 2009 as the least safe of 35 Russian airlines flying to Europe, according to Aviation Explorer, an air industry Web site.
The Yaroslavl crash is the ninth for Yak-42s around the world since they went into mass production in 1980.
As of late Wednesday, 35 bodies had been recovered, emergency officials said. The rescue operation continued overnight.
The triple-engine passenger jet struggled to gain altitude as it took off around 4 p.m. and struck an aerial beacon, hitting the ground beyond the runway and bursting into flames on impact.