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Hockey world not immune to travel tragedy

by John Kreiser
Despite the millions of miles its teams, players and personnel travel by air each season, the National Hockey League has been fortunate -- no NHL team has been involved in a crash like the one involving members of Yaroslavl Lokomotiv of Russia's Kontinental Hockey League on Wednesday.

The most-remembered air crash involving an NHL player came in 1951, when Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Bill Barilko, who had scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal months earlier, was returning home from a fishing trip when his single-engine plane disappeared. The crash site near Cochrane, Ont., was not found until 1962.

Former NHL player and Los Angeles Kings Director of Pro Scouting Ace Bailey, along with Kings scout Mark Bavis, 31, were aboard United Flight 175 out of Boston's Logan Airport, the second plane to hit the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001.

But until Wednesday, no major hockey club in North America or Europe had suffered fatalities in a team plane crash. Nor have any of the three other major U.S. sports leagues, though four members of the Canadian Football League's Saskatchewan Roughriders were killed in a plane crash in December 1956 while returning from the CFL All-Star Game in Vancouver.

U.S. college sports teams at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo (football, 1960) Marshall (football, 1970), Wichita State (football, 1970), Evansville (basketball, 1977) and Oklahoma State (basketball, 2001) have lost players and people affiliated with their programs in air crashes. The most recent was the January 2001 crash involving one of three planes carrying players and staff from OSU's men's basketball team; all 10 people, including two players, died when the plane crashed during a snowstorm while returning from a game in Boulder, Colo. Perhaps the best-known was the March 1931 crash that took the life of legendary Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne and seven others during a storm in Kansas.

All 18 members of the United States figure skating team, plus coaches, family and friends, were killed Feb. 15, 1961, when their plane crashed in Belgium, claiming the lives of all 72 people on board. A memorial ceremony to mark the 40th anniversary of the crash was held in Belgium on Feb. 10.

The U.S. Olympic Boxing team was decimated in a 1980 crash near Warsaw, Poland, that claimed 64 lives.

Non-North American sports teams also have had their share of air tragedies. Eighteen members of Italy's Torino F.C. died in a 1949 crash, and eight members of Manchester United were among 23 people who died in a 1958 crash in Munich, Germany. A 1969 crash in Bolivia killed 25 members of a soccer team as well as 49 others aboard the plane. A group of soccer players from Suriname who were playing in the Netherlands were among the 176 people killed In June 1989 when their flight crashed while approaching Paramaribo-Zanderij International Airport in Suriname. In April 1993, 18 members of Zambia's national soccer team were among 30 people killed in a crash on the way to Senegal for a World Cup qualifier.

The 24 members of Cuba's national fencing team were among 78 people who died when the plane they were on was brought down by a terrorist attack Oct. 6, 1976.

Individual athletes have not been immune to tragedies.

Baseball Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente lost his life along with three other people Dec. 31, 1972, when his plane plunged into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Puerto Rico. Clemente was flying supplies to the victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua. New York Yankees star Thurman Munson died Aug. 2, 1979, when he crashed while practicing takeoffs and landings at an airport in Canton, Ohio. More recently, New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle and his co-pilot died in October 2006 when their four-seat aircraft slammed into a Manhattan high-rise apartment building.

PGA champion Payne Stewart was among six people killed in an October 1999 crash that happened after the cabin of his jet depressurized following takeoff. Everyone on board lost consciousness, but the plane -- flying from Florida to Texas -- stayed in the air for several hours and was shadowed by Air Force fighters until it crashed in a field in South Dakota.

Rocky Marciano, the famed heavyweight champion, died Aug. 31, 1969, along with two other people, when his plane went down near Newton, La., at night in rough weather.

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