MOSCOW -- A Russian airliner carrying a top local ice-hockey team north of Moscow has crashed, killing 43 and leaving two critically injured.
The victims are mostly players and staff of a top Russian ice-hockey team, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, including stars from at least eight countries.
The news sent shock waves through the international hockey community.
The Yakovlev-42 passenger plane was bound for the Belarusian capital, Minsk, but crashed after it failed to gather altitude on takeoff from Yaroslavl Oblast's Tunoshna airport, around 250 kilometers northeast of Moscow.
The crash, which took place in clear weather conditions, marks the second major air disaster in Russia this year and casts another shadow on Russia's deplorable air-safety record.
"According to preliminary information, there were 45 people on board the airplane, including 37 passengers and eight crew members," Emergency Situations Ministry spokesman Sergei Miroshnichenko told a news conference in Moscow.
"As of 6 p.m. [Moscow time], two people have been brought to a city hospital [in Yaroslavl] and 27 dead bodies have been found."
International reports suggested Russian player Aleksandr Galimov was battling for his life, along with airline crew member Aleksandr Sizov, both of whom were reported to be battling burns from the fiery crash.
Entire Hockey Team On Plane
Rescuers work on the river at the crash site of Russian Yak-42 jet near the city of Yaroslavl on September 7.
The head of the International Ice Hockey Federation, Rene Fasel, called it the "darkest day in the history of our sport."
"The plane took off at 4 p.m. to play a game in Minsk, with the whole team on board, 37 people -- the whole team," Lokomotiv Yaroslavl club spokesman Vladimir Malkov told the Vesti television channel.
People outside the hockey arena in Minsk, where the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team was slated to play on September 9, lay flowers and candles in memory of the crash victims, two of whom were Belarusian.
The famed ice hockey club, founded in 1949 and three-time Russian national champions, was due to play Dinamo Minsk on September 9 in the first match of the 2011-12 season for the Continental Hockey League (KHL).
The team was coached by Canadian national Brad McCrimmon and had numerous foreign players on its roster, reportedly including athletes from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Czech Republic, Latvia, Slovakia, Germany, and Sweden.
Media throughout those countries quickly filled with tributes to the top-caliber players idolized by youngsters and respected by fellow players and coaches.
Interfax reported there were 11 foreigners aboard the plane. The list of dead passengers includes a number of prominent European players or coaches with extensive careers in the NHL, some of them former world or Olympic champions. Some of them are: Pavol Demitra, captain of the Slovak national team and a 16-year NHL veteran; Belarusian Ruslan Salei; Russians Alyaksandr Vasyunov, Igor Korolev, and Aleksandr Karpovtsev; Latvian Karlis Skrastins; Swedish goalee Stefan Liv; and Czechs Karel Rachunek, Jan Marek, and Josef Vasicek.
Russian Ice Hockey Federation President Vladislav Tretyak offered condolences, "first of all to the families of the victims, and the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl club. I'd like to say that this is a big loss for Russia's hockey because there were a lot of good players on the team."
President Dmitry Medvedev was expected to visit the site of the crash in Yaroslav on September 8.
Slew Of Accidents
A team photo from August of the Continental Hockey League's (KHL) Lokomotive Yaroslavl ice-hockey team
This latest air disaster comes on the heels of the crash of a Tupolev Tu-134 plane on June 20 in Russia's Karelia region that killed 47.
Another major catastrophe was narrowly averted on July 11 when the left engine of an Antonov-24 passenger plane burst into flames in midair. The pilot managed a crash landing.
Following that near-disaster, Medvedev issued an order grounding Russia's aging Soviet-era fleet pending safety checks, with a view to phasing them out of use completely.
The deadly June crash was eventually found to be due to pilot error.
Corruption, lax safety precautions, cost-cutting on maintenance, and Russia's infamously cavalier attitude toward safety are considered factors in the country's dismal air safety record.
Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika has ordered an investigation into transport-safety-legislation compliance by Yak Service, the company that owned the Yak-42 passenger plane, as well as the airport and transport administration services.
The Yakovlev-42 model was produced in the 1970s and 1980s as a replacement to the Tupolev-134 and Antonov series.