Russia mourns ice hockey team disaster

2011-09-08 19:19

Yaroslavl - Russia on Thursday mourned the 44 victims of a plane disaster that wiped out a top ice hockey team as President Dmitry Medvedev demanded officials put a stop to a string of air crashes.

An ageing Yak-42 aeroplane carrying three-time Russian champion ice hockey team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, which features several former NHL players, crashed on Wednesday near Yaroslavl, 300km northeast of Moscow.

A sombre Medvedev said on a visit to the crash site that Russia could not continue to suffer from a string of apparently avoidable disasters and may have to rely more on foreign planes.

"This is a shock for the entire country. I've given an order to the investigative committee and the government to conduct a thorough investigation," Medvedev, wearing a black suit, told officials in a quiet but firm voice after he placed flowers at the crash site.

"The situation remains unfortunate, and a string of air crashes which happened this summer shows that. We cannot go on like that," he told top officials including Transport Minister Igor Levitin and Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu.

Modern companies

"We need to create modern companies that will cover all of Russia," he told officials, adding that if Russia could not produce reliable aircraft it would have to buy foreign-made planes, which would be a major blow to Russia's industrial ambitions.

Medvedev's mentor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has particularly insisted Russian carriers buy Russian-made aircraft to support domestic producers.

The latest disaster left two survivors, including a Russian hockey player, in critical condition and comes on the heels of a summer full of deadly transportation mishaps.

Two accidents involving Tu-134 and An-24 jets killed more than 50 people and prompted Medvedev to call for that type of the aircraft to be retired in the coming months.

Officials have so far blamed Wednesday's tragedy on human error, the usual suspect in a string of past tragedies, and Medvedev demanded that aviation companies improve their act.

In a grim twist of fate, the crash occurred on the eve of Medvedev's scheduled visit to Yaroslavl to address a political conference which seeks to tout Russia's economic and political clout.

Medvedev had been set to address the annual two-day political conference at Lokomotiv's home arena, which has now become a shrine to the team with thousands of fans placing heaps of roses and team scarves there.

Disastrous record

Authorities said on Thursday they were looking into the possibility of temporarily grounding the Yak-42 because they could not rule out the possibility of an aircraft malfunction.

The 18-year-old plane with 45 people aboard was headed to the Belarussian capital Minsk where the team were to play their season opening game.

By Thursday morning dozens of divers pulled all the bodies out of the water, a spokesperson for the local emergencies services said.

The two survivors, player Alexander Galimov and crew member Alexander Sizov, were in grave condition.

Russians across the country mourned the loss of some of the country's best sports talent and decried the country's disastrous record of air safety.

"Lokomotiv was one of Russia's strongest and most beloved teams," said broadsheet Kommersant.

"Another black day in Russia's shameful modern history," actor Alexei Devotchenko wrote in a blog.

Among those killed were the team's Canadian coach Brad McCrimmon, a former assistant with the NHL's Detroit Red Wings, goalie and former Swedish Olympic champion Stefan Liv and Slovak ex-NHL standout Pavol Demitra.