Pavol Demitra, Ruslan Salei among 43 dead in Russian plane crash
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Former Kings forward Pavol Demitra and former Ducks defenseman Ruslan Salei were among 43 people killed when a plane carrying a Russian hockey league team crashed shortly after takeoff on Wednesday, Russian officials have confirmed.
Only two of the 45 people on board the passenger plane carrying members of the Kontinental Hockey League team Lokomotiv survived after the Yak-42 aircraft slammed into the banks of the Volga River after taking off from an airport in Yaroslavl, 150 miles northeast of Moscow. The team was flying to Belarus to play in its season opener against Dinamo Minsk.
Russian player Alexander Galimov and a flight engineer survived and were taken to a hospital with serious injuries, Sergei Vakhrukov, the Yaroslavl region governor, told the television network Russia-24.
“Today we lost our favorite team,” he said.
The weather was sunny and clear at the time, officials said. Russian media said the plane struggled to gain altitude and then crashed into a signal tower, shattering into pieces, the Associated Press reported.
Among the dead was Lokomotiv Coach Brad McCrimmon, 52, a former NHL defenseman. He had recently worked as an assistant coach for the Detroit Red Wings and had signed a contract with Lokomotiv in May.
A Czech Embassy official told the Associated Press that former NHL players Josef Vasicek and Karel Rachunek were among those killed. Former NHL defenseman Karlis Skrastins, Detroit Red Wings prospect Stefan Liv and former Kings prospect Jan Marek were also among the dead. Demitra, 36, played with the Kings during the 2005-06 season, finishing third in team scoring with 62 points. He last played in the NHL with the Vancouver Canucks during the 2009-10 season. The Slovakian standout led Lokomotiv in scoring last season.
Salei, 36, was selected ninth overall by the Ducks in the 1996 draft and played the first nine seasons of his NHL career in Anaheim. The Belarus native played with the Detroit Red Wings last year.
Video footage from the site of the crash showed a disfigured and burning bulk of the plane cabin towering from the shallow waters of the Volga close to the shore. Rescue workers were seen cautiously approaching the still-burning wreckage by boat.
By nightfall 35 bodies had been retrieved, the Russian Emergency Ministry officials said.
The Yaroslavl Lokomotiv is part of the 24-team Kontinental Hockey League, which was organized and mainly sponsored by Russia. Some of the organizations are based in former Soviet republics. A league game scheduled Wednesday the city of Ufa was canceled. Several thousand people in the stadium stood when they heard the news, many of them crying.
“It is a horrible blow and a colossal loss for the league,” Vsevolod Kukushkin, a KHL advisor, said by telephone.
Kukushkin said the league should reconsider the quality of the planes charted by teams and the preparedness of pilots. ‘Our players make at least one, often two flights a week, given the vast geography of the league,’ he added.
-- Sergei L. Loiko and Austin Knoblauch
Top Photo: Emergency workers search the wreckage of a plane that crashed in Yaroslav, Russia on Wednesday. Credit: Reuters. Right photo: Pavol Demitra; Bottom photo: Ruslan Salei. Credit: Times files