Bloomberg News

Medvedev Demands Aviation Overhaul as Hockey Team Crash Kills 43

September 08, 2011

Sept. 8 (Bloomberg) -- President Dmitry Medvedev demanded “radical changes” in Russia’s civil aviation after a passenger plane carrying the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team crashed yesterday, killing all but two of the 45 people on board.

A search and rescue mission continued until 1 a.m. local time and resumed in the morning, when workers recovered the last body after 7 a.m. Plane fragments littered the riverbank site, with a turbine, seats and other parts in the water. The plane, a Soviet-era Yakovlev-42 aircraft, had failed to gain altitude when taking off from the Tunoshna airport in the Yaroslavl region about 300 kilometers (186 miles) northwest of Moscow on the opening day of the Kontinental Hockey League season.

Medvedev, 45, who has pushed to modernize the economy and turn Moscow into a global financial hub to reduce dependence on energy exports, spoke today at a global policy forum in the region where the plane crashed. The president called for reducing the number of airlines and purchasing foreign aircraft to guarantee safety of air travel.

The authorities may seek to decommission Yak-42 planes, Deputy Transportation Minister Valery Okulov, who’s also a former head of Russia’s flagship airline, OAO Aeroflot, said in a telephone interview from Yaroslavl. Investigators are waiting to decode recording devices before commenting on possible causes of the crash, he said.

Critical Condition

Lokomotiv player Alexander Galimov is in critical condition, according to Yaroslavl Governor Sergey Vakhrukov’s press service. An airplane crew member -- identified as Alexander Sizov on the KHL website -- was also hospitalized.

Lokomotiv, a three-time national champion, was coached by former Detroit Red Wings assistant Brad McCrimmon, a 52-year-old Canadian, and its roster lists former National Hockey League players Pavol Demitra, who played for the St. Louis Blues and Vancouver Canucks; Josef Vasicek, Karel Rachunek and Karlis Skrastins.

The plane crash is a blow to the fledgling Russian league, which started in 2008 and has attracted players including former New York Rangers winger Jaromir Jagr, the ninth-leading scorer in NHL history.

The Entire Team

“The whole team was on the plane,” Vladimir Malkov, Lokomotiv’s spokesman, said in comments broadcast on state television. There were eight crew members on board, Yelena Kalabushkina, a spokeswoman for the Emergency Ministry said by phone.

The KHL is made up of 24 teams, split between two conferences, in Russia, Belarus, Latvia and Kazakhstan.

The league and the NHL have been at odds in recent years over the KHL attempting to entice NHL players to break their contracts and join the Russian league.

Swedish national team ice-hockey goaltender Stefan Liv was also on the team. The KHL website said that McCrimmon was on the plane, as were two members of the 2010 world champion Czech Republic team, Jan Marek and Vasicek. Alexander Karpovtsev, a member of the 1994 Stanley Cup winning New York Rangers team, and Igor Korolev, who played 12 seasons in the NHL, were assistant coaches.

Yakovlev Planes

The plane was developed during the Soviet era by the Yakovlev Design Bureau, and has been in commercial service for more than 30 years. Eight Yak-42s have crashed with 570 fatalities since they entered service in 1975, the New York Times reported.

The aircraft has three rear-mounted jet engines and typically flies as many as 120 passengers. It has been involved in several crashes, including an accident involving a Ukrainian plane which killed all crew and more than 60 Spanish peacekeeping soldiers near the Black Sea city of Trabzon. A probe has been opened into the cause of today’s accident, according to the Russian Investigative Committee.

Yak Service, the operator of the chartered flight, was put under review by European Union regulators in 2009 for possible inclusion on a blacklist after Russia restricted it at home. The European commission didn’t ban the operator after Russia lifted its own measures.

The plane was headed to Minsk, Belarus, for a game today, according to the KHL website. Alexander Medvedev canceled yesterday’s opening KHL game in Russia’s Bashkortostan region. The accident happened just after 4 p.m. local time yesterday at a tributary that feeds into the Volga.

‘Lokomotiv is Everything’

“Lokomotiv is everything for Yaroslavl,” said Oleg Mayorov, a 35-year-old singer in a disco-ska band who came to the arena with his wife and two daughters to pay their respects. “This is the only thing that unites everybody in the city.”

Club supporters piled as much as two meters of flowers, scarves, and flags on tables at the arena. Outside, fans made a shrine with candles and more scarves. In Yaroslavl, cars honked their horns in mourning.

Lokomotiv Yaroslavl joins England’s Manchester United soccer club and the Marshall University football team as sports teams affected by accidents.

United’s plane crashed taking off from a refueling stop in Munich on a trip back from a 5-4 victory over Red Star Belgrade in February 1958. Twenty-two people were killed, including seven players, and another player died of his injuries 15 days later.

Seventy-five people were killed in November 1970 as a plane carrying Marshall’s football team crashed while attempting to land in Huntington, West Virginia. Most of the team, the coaching staff, flight crew and supporters were killed.

--With assistance from Torrey Clark in Moscow, Bob Bensch and Guy Collins in London, Christopher Donville in Vancouver and Michael Buteau in Atlanta. Editors: Paul Abelsky, Torrey Clark.

To contact the reporters on this story: Ekaterina Shatalova in Moscow at eshatalova@bloomberg.net; Ilya Arkhipov in Tunoshna, Yaroslavl Region, Russia at iarkhipov@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Torrey Clark at tclark8@bloomberg.net


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