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Russian Jet Carrying Hockey Team Crashes, 43 Dead

A Russian jet carrying members of a local hockey team crashed shortly after takeoff on Wednesday, killing 43 people, including several former NHL players.

The Yak-42 crashed immediately after leaving an airport near the city of Yaroslavl, on the Volga River about 150 miles northeast of Moscow. The weather was sunny and clear at the time.

The Russian Emergency Situations Ministry said the plane was carrying the Lokomotiv ice hockey team from Yaroslavl to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, where it was to play Thursday against Dinamo Minsk in the opening game of the season in the Kontinental Hockey League. The KHL is an international league that pits together teams from Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Latvia and Slovakia.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin immediately sent the nation's transport minister to the site, 10 miles east of Yaroslavl.

A Lokomotiv official reportedly told Sovetsky Sport that all the players from the team’s main roster were aboard the plane.

The Emergency Ministry said Czech players Josef Vasicek, Karel Rachunek and Jan Marek, Swedish goalie Stefan Liv, Canadian coach Brad McCrimmon, Latvian defenseman Karlis Skrastins, defenseman Ruslan Salehi of Belarus and Slovakian national team captain Pavol Demitra were among those killed.

Tomas Kral, the president of the Czech ice hockey association, was shocked to hear the news.

"Jan Marek, Karel Rachunek, and Josef Vasicek contributed greatly to the best successes of our ice hockey in the recent years, first of all to the golden medals at the world championships in 2005 and 2010," Kral said. "The were excellent players, but also great friends and personalities. That's how we will remember them."

Demitra, 36, an 11-time 20-goal scorer from Slovakia, played 13 years in the NHL and scored 304 goals. Alexander Vasyunov, who played 18 NHL games last season with the New Jersey Devils, was also onboard, according to Newscore.

"This is the darkest day in the history of our sport. This is not only a Russian tragedy, the Lokomotiv roster included players and coaches from 10 nations," said Rene Fasel, president of the international Ice Hockey Federation. "This is a terrible tragedy for the global ice hockey community."

"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 statement.

Russian NHL star Alex Ovechkin tweeted: "I'm in shock!!!!!R.I.P ..."

Officials said player Alexander Galimov survived the crash along with a crewmember.

"We will do our best to ensure that hockey in Yaroslavl does not die, and that it continues to live for the people that were on that plane," said Russian Ice Hockey Federation President Vladislav Tretyak.

Yaroslavl governor Sergei Vakhrukov promised the crowd that the Lokomotiv team would be rebuilt from scratch, prompting anger from some fans at a perceived lack of respect for the dead.

The crash comes on top of an already mournful year for the NHL in which three of the league's enforcers were found dead: Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and recently retired Wade Belak.

The plane that crashed was built in 1993 and belonged to a small Moscow-based Yak Service company. The short- and medium-range Yak-42 has been in service since 1980 and dozens are still in service in Russia and with other airlines. 

President Dmitry Medvedev has announced plans to take aging Soviet-built planes out of service starting next year.

In June, another Russian passenger jet crashed in the northwestern city of Petrozavodsk, killing 47 people. The crash of that Tu-134 plane has been blamed on pilot error.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.