A Russian jet carrying the Kontinental Hockey League’s Lokomotiv Yaroslavl crashed shortly after takeoff Wednesday, killing nearly all of the club’s players and coaches on what the president of the International Ice Hockey Federation called “the darkest day in the history of our sport.”
Lokomotiv was on its way to Minsk, Belarus, for its season opener when the plane, a Yak-42, crashed into a bank of the Volga River immediately following takeoff from an airport near Yaroslavl, a city 150 miles northeast of Moscow, according to the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry. Of the 45 people on board, only two — a player and a crew member — survived the crash.
“This is not only a Russian tragedy, the Lokomotiv roster included players and coaches from 10 nations,’’ IIHF President Rene Fasel said. “This is a terrible tragedy for the global ice hockey community.’’
Alex Ovechkin had just taken to the ice for a light workout at the Washington Capitals’ practice facility in Arlington when he learned of the crash. The Russian superstar’s friend and former teammate, Alexander Galimov, was the lone player to survive the crash but suffered severe burns on 80 percent of his body, according to reports from Russia’s Sport Express and Sovetsky Sport.
“I played with him when I was a little kid and again in national team, junior,” a noticeably shaken Ovechkin said. “It’s kind of a scary moment. A whole national tragedy. My friend just told me when I go out to the ice, I go to the Internet see it’s true or not. It’s scary. I don’t know what to say.”
Among the former NHL players in the crash were Pavol Demitra, Ruslan Salei, Karlis Skrastins, Karel Rachunek and Josef Vasicek. Brad McCrimmon, a former Red Wings and Flyers defenseman, was Lokomotiv’s new head coach.
Capitals goaltender Tomas Vokoun, a Czech native, was distraught after hearing the news of the plane crash because one of his close friends was on the aircraft. The veteran netminder played with both Skrastins and Salei in the NHL. Vokoun asked to not speak with reporters, according to a team spokesman.
Washington prospect Stanislav Galiev, who is in town for rookie camp, knew three of the young players on the flight.
“I’m shocked; it’s very sad. I had a couple good friends there from world junior team. I played with them,” said Galiev, who said he knew Sergei Ostapchuk, Yuri Urychev and Daniil Sobchenko well. “You know travel every day [as an athlete]. You don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow; it’s just life.”
Players and officials from leagues across North America and Europe expressed their shock and sadness Wednesday.
“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 who at one time excelled in our League,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a news release. “Our deepest condolences go to the families and loved ones of all who perished.”
It is unclear how the KHL will proceed after losing nearly the entire roster for one of its franchises and whether it will attempt to reconstruct Lokomotiv, possibly through a draft, so that the club can participate this year.
“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 KHL said in a statement. “This tragedy remains our primary focus. We ask for patience as we find an appropriate way to proceed with the 2011-2012 season.”