Pilot error was the primary cause behind the September plane crash that killed the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl ice hockey team, according to the Associated Press, which cited a report released Wednesday by Russian air safety officials.
According to the report, one of the pilots accidentally pressed the brake pedals during takeoff, not allowing the aircraft to gain the necessary altitude for takeoff. The plane was airborne for just a few seconds before crashing 500 yards from the runway and breaking into pieces.
Forty-four people died in the crash and all but the flight crew were members of the Lokomotiv team, which plays in the Kontinental Hockey League and was flying to Minsk, Belarus for the season's opening game. Many of the players on the flight had extensive ties to the NHL.
, the team's new coach, was a star defenseman in the League for many years and had most recently served as an assistant coach with Detroit before taking the Lokomotiv head job in the spring. Pavol Demitra
, Ruslan Salei
, Karlis Skrastins
, Josef Vasicek
and assistant coach Alexander Karpotsev, who won the 1994 Stanley Cup with the New York Rangers
, were players for the team.
One player, Aleksandr Galimov, survived the initial crash, but suffered catastrophic burns. He died five days later in the hospital. A member of the flight crew is the crash's only survivor.
Lokomotiv, a three-time Russian champion, will not play in the KHL this season, but plans to return to league competition in 2012-13
Aleksei Morozov, the head of Russia's Interstate Aviation Commission, said it could not be determined if it was the flight's commander or co-pilot that made the error that doomed the Yak-42, a Russian made, three-engine plane used primarily for domestic trips in Russia.
According to Morozov in a New York Times article, test pilots in a flight experiment determined that an erroneous pushing of the brake pedals during takeoff could only be possible if the pilot's feet are mistakenly placed on the braking floor, noting that even a slight pressure on the pedals may have been overlooked by the pilot.
The application of the brakes, he said, caused the plane to roll off the runway at a high speed and at an angle that made takeoff impossible. He also stated that if the crew had identified the problem, they could have aborted the takeoff in time to save the aircraft.