TUNOSHNA, Russia – A Russian passenger airliner chartered by one of the country’s best-known hockey teams and carrying numerous veterans of the National Hockey League crashed during takeoff near the city of Yaroslavl on Wednesday, killing all but 2 of the 45 people on board.
The coach of the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv team, Brad McCrimmon, a Canadian who played 18 seasons in the N. H. L. between 1979 and 1997, died in the crash, along with Pavol Demitra, the captain of the Slovakian national team who played 16 seasons for the St. Louis Blues, Vancouver Canucks and three other N. H. L. teams. McCrimmon resigned as an assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings last May to become Lokomotiv’s head coach. It was his first head coaching job in a professional league.
Beyond its impact on professional hockey, the crash added to a terrible run of air safety problems in Russia, with eight fatal crashes this year, six of them since June.
The disaster claimed the lives, as well, of Ruslan Salei, a 14-year N. H. L. veteran from Belarus; Karlis Skrastins, a Latvian who played 12 years in the N. H. L.; an assistant coach, Igor Korolev, a Russian who played 12 N. H. L. seasons; and Alexander Vasyunov, a Russian who played 18 games for the New Jersey Devils last season. Also among the dead were Aleksandr Karpovtsev, an assistant coach who played defense for the New York Rangers for five seasons, including 1994, when the team won the Stanley Cup, and the Swedish goalie Stefan Liv, who was on the Swedish national team that won the Olympic gold medal in 2006.
The only survivors were a crew member and a player, the star forward Aleksandr Galimov, who was taken to a local hospital, a Russian aviation official told the Interfax news agency.
“Though it occurred thousands of miles away from our home arenas, this tragedy represents a catastrophic loss to the hockey world,” Gary Bettman, the commissioner of the N. H. L., said in a statement
from New York.
The tragedy brings to mind other catastrophes that have decimated sports programs. In 1961, the entire United States figure skating team was killed as it traveled to the world championships in Prague. All but a few of the members of the Marshall University football team were killed in a 1970 crash in West Virginia, the same year that a plane went down with about half of the Wichita State University football team (other team members were flying in a different plane).
This crash is likely to have a severe impact on Russian hockey. Lokomotiv is a three-time Russian champion, winning its last title in 2003. It has been at the forefront of an effort to rebuild Russian hockey that started with the 2008 formation of the Kontinental Hockey League, or K. H. L. The team lost in Game 7 of the opening season’s playoff final and has been a top contender since.
Billionaire businessmen and large state companies like Gazprom, the energy giant, have been pumping money into the league, improving arenas and raising salaries in an effort to retain players who were being lost to the N. H. L. and to recruit some North American and European stars as players and coaches. The crash is likely to give those stars second thoughts.
In 2008, a highly prized 19-year-old forward, Alexei Cherepanov, who was a first-round draft choice by the Rangers, died on the bench of the Avangard Omsk team at the end of a game of a heart ailment that had gone undetected.