Dozens feared dead in Russian hockey team plane crash

Tunoshna: A passenger plane carrying a Russian ice hockey team to a season-opening match crashed after takeoff from a provincial airport on Wednesday, leaving 43 people feared dead.

The crash of the Yak-42 aircraft, whose passengers included players and coaches of a team that includes foreign stars, plunged Russia`s sports world into grief and marred a showcase political forum featuring President Dmitry Medvedev.

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

Citing preliminary information, the ministry said two people survived and were taken to hospital.

The plane was carrying members of Lokomotiv -- a leading Continental Hockey League (KHL) hockey team based in Yaroslavl -- to a match in Minsk, KHL president Alexander Medvedev said in televised comments.

"There has been a terrible tragedy," Medvedev said after the opening match of the league`s season in the city of Ufa was interrupted by news of the crash, stunning spectators and sports officials. He announced a minute`s silence and postponed the match.

There was no immediate word on the identity of the victims. Lokomotiv`s roster includes European and NHL stars, among them Czech national side players Karel Ranuchek, Jan Marek and Josef Vasicek, Slovakia`s legend Pavol Demitra and Swedish goalkeeper Liv Stefan, according to the KHL.

Its head coach is Canadian former Detroit Red Wings assistant Brad McCrimmon, according to the KHL.

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 metres (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.

Bureau Report

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