Thousands of people gathered Saturday at Arena 2000 in Yaroslavl, Russia to pay their final respects to members of the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv team that died in a plane crash Wednesday.
Reports varied from 50,000 upwards to 100,000 people in and around the arena. Several current and former NHL players were attendance, as well as representatives from the other KHL clubs. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was also in attendance.
"For the first time in my life, I had trouble entering an ice arena," KHL chairman and former NHL star Vyacheslav Fetisov said at the ceremony to the Associated Press. "It's an inexplicable tragedy."
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin lays flowers at the Arena-2000 on September 10, 2011 to honor the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv players and staff that were lost. (Photo: Alexey Nikolsky/Getty Images)
Forty-three people died in the crash Wednesday shortly after takeoff , including 36 members of the Lokomotiv organization who were en route to Minsk, Belarus, to play the first game of their KHL season against Dinamo Minsk.
There are two survivors of the crash, player Alexander Galimov and flight crew member Alexander Sizov, who both remain in critical condition. The other people who perished on board were flight crew members.
The city of Yaroslavl is about 160 miles Northeast of Moscow, and there was a special train running from the nation's capitol to help mourners reach the funeral, according to Russia Today. There are plans for two memorials -- one near the crash site along the Volga River and one outside the stadium.
There was a private Russian Orthodox funeral service with the families of several of the victims in a cathedral in Yaroslavl before the official ceremony.
"Wednesday was a sad day for hockey and for my country," Pittsburgh Penguins
star Evgeni Malkin
said on the team's website Friday. "I've most many friends and people lost their family members. My teammates and I ask that Penguins fans and all NHL fans to remember everyone lost in their prayers."
Dinamo Minsk held a ceremony for the Lokomotiv players Friday with a capacity crowd at Minsk Arena. Former NHL defenseman Ruslan Salei
was buried Saturday in Minsk, and thousands were on hand to pay their last respects, according to Dmitry Chesnokov of Sovetsky Sport and Yahoo Sports.
"On behalf of the Salei family, I want to express my sincere thanks to the entire hockey community, including all of Ruslan's friends and fans, for the overwhelming love and support," Salei's wife, Bethann, said in a statement Friday. "While this is an extremely difficult time for us, the outpouring of affection our family has received has been comforting. As much as Ruslan enjoyed playing hockey, he loved the camaraderie he had with his teammates, the team staffs, and the fans that much more.
"Ruslan was the love of my life, and I’m extremely grateful to have our three beautiful children. He treasured his family life with us, and we miss him dearly."