A plane crash near the city of Yaroslavl in Central Russia has claimed the lives of at least 43 people, according to Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry. The majority of victims are believed to be members of the Kontinental Hockey League club, Lokomotiv.
The crash occurred at 12 noon Moscow time and the weather was sunny and clear, according to reports.
Eight crew members are also among the dead, according to reports. According to Russian aviation officials, two passengers survived the crash, but are in critical condition. According to Sovetsky Sport, one of the survivors is Russian forward Alexander Galimov.
Lokomotiv has confirmed that the entire main roster, plus four players from the youth team, was on the plane.
"We have no team anymore," Vladimir N. Malkov, the team spokesman, said in a telephone interview with The New York Times. "All our starting players, and all the service people, they all burned in the crash."
Coach Brad McCrimmon, forward Pavol Demitra, forward Josef Vasicek, defenseman Karel Rachunek, forward Jan Marek and forward Alexander Vasyunov are among the confirmed fatalities.
The agent for forward Pavol Demitra, an ex-NHL star, confirmed that Demitra was killed in the crash in Russia.
"This is just awful," Matt Keator said. "He was such a popular guy with everyone he has ever played with."
Keator was in Russia visiting Demitra just three weeks ago. He spent some time with the Yaroslavl team during his visit.
"I was over there three weeks ago and they were a fun bunch," Keator said. "They seemed to be a great group of guys. Very tight.
"Pavol was the best. He was very popular with all his teammates and he cared about them very much. He was very close with a lot of guys. It's just stunning. Bad things happen to good people sometimes, and this is a great example of that."
The Czech embassy in Moscow confirmed the deaths of Vasicek, Rachunek and Marek.
The Lokomotiv roster was full of players with NHL ties.
McCrimmon, played in the NHL and most recently served as an assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings before taking the Yaroslavl job in May. The Russian Times confirmed that McCrimmon also died in the crash.
Defensemen Rachunek, Ruslan Salei and Karlis Skrastins, as well as forwards Demitra and Vasicek all spent a good deal of time in the NHL.
Vasyunov, a forward, played in 18 games with the New Jersey Devils this past season. Devils GM Lou Lamoriello confirmed that Vasyunov died in the crash.
"I can't say enough about him," Lamoriello told reporters Wednesday. "(Vasyunov) wanted to go over (to Russia) and play a lot and come back here. He was so proud to be a Devil."
Rachunek, a ninth-round pick of the Ottawa Senators in the 1997 Entry Draft, also played for the Devils, as well as the Ottawa Senators and New York Rangers, but had some of his most successful years playing in Russia. He was coming off a career-best 11-goal, 46-point season for Lokomotiv in his third stint with the club.
Former NHLers Igor Korolev and Alexander Karpovtsev were listed as assistant coaches for Lokomotiv.
McCrimmon played defense for six NHL teams -- Boston, Philadelphia, Calgary, Detroit, Hartford and Phoenix -- in a 17-year career, appearing in 1,222 regular-season games in the NHL, collecting 81 goals, 322 assists and 1,416 penalty minutes.
He was an assistant coach with the New York Islanders, Calgary Flames, Atlanta Thrashers and the Red Wings. He also served as head coach of the Western Hockey League's Saskatoon Blades.
According to the reports on the crash, the plane, a Yakovlev Yak-42 passenger jet, went down and caught fire shortly immediately after taking to the air, crashing less than 2 kilometers from the airport.
The short- and medium-range Yak-42 has been in service since 1980. It was en route to Minsk, Belarus for a Thursday night game against Dynamo Minsk, Yaroslavl's opener to the 2011-12 KHL season.
Former Montreal Canadiens defenseman Brent Sopel, who is now playing in Russia, tweeted shortly after the crash: "In shock. Prayers out to all of the KHL families."
The Russian Emergency Situations Ministry said the plane crashed immediately after taking off from an airport near the city on the Volga River, which is approximately 150 miles northeast of Moscow.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has sent his transport minister to the site of the crash
The KHL season opened Wednesday with a game between Ufa and HC Atlant, but that game was suspended as soon as news of the tragedy broke.
"We are working to find an appropriate way to honor this club and begin the healing process from the deep loss so many of us feel today," the league said in a statement Wednesday
Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, founded in 1949 as the team of the Railways Ministry, is one of Russia's leading hockey teams and came runner up in the Kontinental Hockey League in 2008 and 2009. In 1997 it took the Russian Superleague title and won back-to-back championships in 2002 and 2003.