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 were members of the Kontinental Hockey League club, Lokomotiv.
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, defenseman Ruslan Salei, forward Josef Vasicek, defenseman Karel Rachunek, forward Jan Marek, forward Alexander Vasyunov, defenseman Karlis Skrastins and goalie Stefan Liv are among the confirmed fatalities.
The deaths McCrimmon, Salei, Vasicek, Rachunek, Skrastins and Liv were confirmed by the Russian Emergency Ministry. Demitra's passing was confirmed by his agent, Matt Keator, while the New Jersey Devils confirmed Vasyunov's death.
The crash, one of the worst in the history of sports, occurred at 4 p.m. Moscow time and the weather was sunny and clear, according to reports.
"Though it occurred thousands of miles away from our home arenas, this tragedy represents a catastrophic loss to the hockey world — including the NHL family, which lost so many fathers, sons, teammates and friends," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement.
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. One of the survivors is Russian forward Alexander Galimov, who suffered burns across 80 percent of his body.
"Their state of health is very grave. But there is still some hope," said Alexander Degyatryov, chief doctor at Yaroslavl's Solovyov Hospital.
Several hundred mourning fans wearing jerseys and scarves gathered in the evening at the Lokomotiv stadium to pay their respects.
"I knew half the team. I didn't believe it at first... then I felt sick," New York Ranger Artem Anisimov said according to Newsday's Steve Zipay.
Anisimov is from Yaroslavl and is a product of the Lokomotiv hockey school. He played for the team in the old Russian Super League for two seasons, 2005-07.
"This is just awful," 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," said Keator. "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.
Vasicek played for the Carolina Hurricanes during part of his NHL career and McCrimmon played for the Hartford Whalers, which eventually became the Carolina Hurricanes. Carolina GM Jim Rutherford issued a statement on the tragedy.
"We are deeply saddened to learn of today's tragedy in Russia. Josef was a key part of the Hurricanes for six years, helping us achieve some of our greatest successes. More importantly, he was a great teammate on and off the ice, and was respected as a person as well as a player.
"Brad McCrimmon was a member of our team while we were still in Hartford, and was well-liked by all who came in contact with him. His presence in the hockey community will be greatly missed.
"Our thoughts and prayers go to the Vasicek and McCrimmon families, and the loved ones of all of today's victims."
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.
Forward Vasyunov played a handful of 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. He also played with 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. This particular plane has been in operation since 1993, according to officials. 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.
A match between KHL teams Salavat Yulaev and Atlant in the central Russian city of Ufa was called off midway Wednesday after news of the crash was announced by KHL president head Alexander Medvedev.
"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
Russian Ice Hockey Federation President Vladislav Tretiak also expressed his feelings on the crash.
"We will do our best to ensure that hockey in Yaroslavl does not die, and that it continues to live for the people that were on that plane," he said.
International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel called the crash "the darkest day in the history of our sport."
"Despite the substantial air travel of professional hockey teams, our sport has been spared from tragic traffic accidents," Fasel said. "But only until now. This is the darkest day in the history of our sport. This is not only a Russian tragedy, the Lokomotiv roster included players and coaches from ten nations."
"Everyone within the NHLPA family is deeply saddened by the tragic passing today of players, coaches and staff from the KHL hockey club, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl," the NatIonal Hockey League Players' Asoociation said in a statement. "The club included many former NHLPA members, as well as many members of the international hockey community. Words cannot express the profound sorrow that this loss has created. Our sincere condolences go out to the friends and families who have been impacted by this terrible tragedy."
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.