Yaroslavl: Investigators on Thursday searched for flight recorders in the shattered remains of an airliner that crashed on the banks of the Volga River, killing 43 people including most of one of Russia`s premier hockey teams.
The recorders could provide key information explaining why the Yak-42 crashed just after takeoff Wednesday from the Yaroslavl airport, 150 miles (240 kilometers) northeast of Moscow. The Interstate Aviation Committee says the recorders are believed to be in the tail section of the jet, which is partly submerged in the river.
The victims included 36 players, coaches and officials of Yaroslavl Lokomotiv, which had been heading to Minsk, Belarus to play its opening game of the Kontinental Hockey League season.
On Thursday morning, hundreds of local residents gathered at the city`s Russian Orthodox cathedral to mourn the victims. Many of them wore team scarves, some of the women using them to cover their heads as church ritual requires.
In recent years, Russia and some other former Soviet republics have had some of the world`s worst air traffic safety records. Experts blame the age of the aircraft, weak government controls, poor pilot training and a cost-cutting mentality.
The crashed jet was built in 1993 and one of its three engines was replaced a month ago, Deputy Transport Minister Valery Okulov told Russian media on Thursday. It is unclear whether technical failure played a role in the crash, but the plane apparently struggled to gain altitude and then hit a signal tower before breaking apart along the Volga.
Okulov said federal transportation authorities are considering whether to halt flights by Yak-42s, Okulov was quoted as saying by the state news agency RIA Novosti. There are 57 of the planes in service in Russia, the agency said.
There were only two crash survivors and both were reported as being in serious condition on Thursday.
Among the dead were Lokomotiv coach and NHL veteran Brad McCrimmon, a Canadian; assistant coach Alexander Karpovtsev, one of the first Russians to have his name etched on the Stanley Cup as a member of the New York Rangers; and Pavol Demitra, who played for the St. Louis Blues and the Vancouver Canucks and was the Slovakian national team captain.
Other standouts killed were Czech players Josef Vasicek, Karel Rachunek and Jan Marek, Swedish goalie Stefan Liv, Latvian defenseman Karlis Skrastins and defenseman Ruslan Salei of Belarus.
Russia was hoping to showcase Yaroslavl as a modern and vibrant city this week at an international forum attended by heads of state, including Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, so the crash came as a particularly bitter blow. The forum is being held in the hockey arena.
Medvedev has announced plans to take aging Soviet-built planes out of service starting next year. The short- and medium-range Yak-42 has been in service since 1980 and about 100 are still being used by Russian carriers.
The crash is one of the worst aviation disasters in sports history.
In past plane crashes involving sports teams, 75 Marshall University football players, coaches, fans and airplane crew died in West Virginia on Nov 14, 1970, while returning from a game. Thirty-six of the dead were players.
Thirty members of a Uruguayan rugby club were killed in a crash in the Andes in 1972.
The entire 18-member US figure skating team died in a crash on their way to the 1961 world championships in Brussels, and 18 members of the Torino soccer team died near Turin, Italy, in a 1949 crash.
In 1980, 14 members of the US amateur boxing team were killed in a crash in Warsaw, Poland.
A plane crash in 1950 near the Russian city of Sverdlovsk, now called Yekaterinburg, killed 13 players and officials in the Soviet air force`s ice hockey squad. A Munich air crash in 1958 cost eight Manchester United players their lives.