A plane crash near the city of Yaroslavl in xentral 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, which has confirmed that the entire main roster, plus four players from the youth team, were 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."
Former NHLers among crash victims
| ||PAVOL DEMITRA |
teams: OTT, STL, LAK, MIN, VAN
| ||RUSLAN SALEI |
teams: ANA, FLA, COL, DET
| ||Karel Rachunek |
teams: Ott, NYR, NJD
| ||Karlis Skrastins |
teams: NSH, COL, FLA, DAl
| ||Josef Vasicek |
teams: Car, NAS, NYI
| ||Alexander Vasyunov |
| ||Brad McCrimmon |
|teams (as coach) |
NYI, CGY, ATL, DET
teamS (as PLAYER)
BOS, PHI, CGY,
DET, HFD, PHX
Coach Brad McCrimmon, forward Pavol Demitra, defenceman Ruslan Salei, forward Josef Vasicek, defenceman Karel Rachunek, forward Jan Marek, forward Alexander Vasyunov, defenseman Karlis Skrastins and goalie Stefan Liv are among the confirmed fatalities.
The deaths of 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.
Also among the victims was Vitaly Anikeyenko, a third-round pick by the Ottawa Senators in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Demitra and Rachunek formerly played with the Senators, with the latter a member of Ottawa's Presidents' Trophy-winning team in 2003, which also reached the Eastern Conference final.
"The Ottawa Senators organization is deeply saddened by the news of the tragic plane crash today in Russia," the team said in a statement. "On behalf of the hockey club and all of our fans, we want to extend our sincere condolences to the family and friends of the players, coaches and staff who died, including Senators draft pick Vitaly Anikeyenko, and former players Pavol Demitra and Karel Rachunek. Our thoughts and prayers are with them."
Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson
, who played with Rachunek and Demitra in Ottawa and with Liv on the Swedish national team, was stunned by the news of the disaster.
"It’s just tragic,” Alfredsson told reporters earlier today at the Bell Sensplex. “Things can happen when you fly and if there’s an accident, it’s usually with disastrous results. But it’s sad. These aren’t just hockey players. These are people.”
And, in the case of the two former Senators in particular, both quality individuals.
“(Demitra) didn’t really find his potential with us, but you could see it was there,” said Alfredsson. “As for Rachunek, he did whatever it took for the team to be successful. Just a solid, steady defencemen. These were just good people.
“They’re leaving families behind and that’s the saddest part. There’s a lot of families that are going to be affected by this and they’re going to have a hard time going forward.”
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.
Keator was in Russia visiting Demitra just three weeks ago. He spent some time with the Yaroslavl team during his visit.
KHL LOKOMOTIV CRASH COVERAGE
"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.
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.
Defencemen Rachunek, Ruslan Salei and Karlis Skrastins, as well as forwards Demitra and Vasicek all spent a good deal of time in the NHL.
Rachunek, a ninth-round pick by the Senators in the 1997 entry draft, also played for the Devils. He also played with the 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.
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
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.
— With files from ottawasenators.com