MOSCOW-- A Russian jet crash that killed 44 people, including an entire professional ice hockey team, was caused by pilot error, investigators said Wednesday, putting the blame on poor training and safety standards.
The Interstate Aviation Committee said the Sept. 7 crash of the Yak-42 plane near the city of Yaroslavl in central Russia occurred because one of the pilots accidentally activated the brakes during takeoff and then lifted the jet too sharply.
Alexei Morozov, who led the investigation, said the crew still had enough time to abort the takeoff safely at the moment when they realized that it had gone wrong.
He blamed the plane's owner, Yak-Servis, for failing to observe safety standards and adequately train the crew.
Morozov added that a medical condition of the second pilot and the prohibited medicine he had taken contributed to the disaster.
The plane crashed into the banks of the Volga River, 150 miles (240 kilometers) northeast of Moscow.
It was one of the worst aviation disasters ever in sports, shocking Russia and the world of hockey, as the dead included 36 players, coaches and staff of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team. The only player who survived the crash later died of burns. A flight engineer was the sole survivor.
The team had been heading to Minsk, Belarus, to play its opening game of the Kontinental Hockey League season.
Among the dead were Lokomotiv coach and National Hockey League veteran Brad McCrimmon, a Canadian; assistant coach Alexander Karpovtsev, one of the first Russians to have his name etched on the Stanley Cup as a member of the New York Rangers; and Pavol Demitra, who played for the St. Louis Blues and the Vancouver Canucks and was the Slovakian national team captain.
The crash raised new concerns about Russia's aviation safety and prompted the president to suggest replacing all aging Soviet-era aircraft with Western-made planes.
But industry experts say that recent air disasters have been rooted not simply in planes' age, but in a combination of other factors, including insufficient crew training, crumbling airports, lax government control and widespread neglect of safety in the pursuit of profits.