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Updated: September 8, 2011 19:03 IST

Russians search for crashed plane's data recorders

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A diver searches the wreckage at a crash site near Yaroslavl, on the Volga River, 240 km northeast of Moscow on Thursday.
AP
A diver searches the wreckage at a crash site near Yaroslavl, on the Volga River, 240 km northeast of Moscow on Thursday.

President Dmitry Medvedev called for immediate changes in Russia’s troubled aviation industry Thursday -- including sharply reducing the number of airlines -- as the country mourned a crash that killed 43 people and decimated a top ice hockey team.

The crash Wednesday killed 36 players, coaches and staff of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team, drawing new attention to the poor air safety records of Russia and other former Soviet republics. Experts blame the problems on old aircraft, weak government controls, poor pilot training and a cost-cutting mentality.

Investigators could not immediately pinpoint what caused the Yak-42 jet to crash into the banks of the Volga River shortly after takeoff from Yaroslavl, 240 km northeast of Moscow. Workers laboured on Thursday to raise the plane’s shattered tail section, site of one of the plane’s on-board recorders.

The plane crashed on the opening day of an international forum that was to showcase Yaroslavl as a modern and vibrant Russian city. Mr. Medvedev laid flowers at the crash site Thursday and met with officials, and later opened his speech at the forum by calling for a moment of silence to commemorate the victims.

“The number of air companies should be radically reduced and it’s necessary to do this within the shortest time,” Mr. Medvedev said in comments at the meeting broadcast on Russian television.

It was not immediately clear what measures the government could take to cut the number of airlines, many of which are small, regional operations of uncertain financial health. Transport Minister Igor Levitin told Mr. Medvedev there are about 130 air carriers throughout Russia, but 85 percent of passengers are carried by just 10 companies.

On Thursday morning, hundreds of residents gathered at the city’s Russian Orthodox cathedral to mourn the victims. Many wore team scarves, some of the women using them to cover their heads as church ritual requires.

The crashed jet was built in 1993 and one of its three engines was replaced a month ago, Deputy Transport Minister Valery Okulov told Russian media. It is unclear whether technical failure played a role in the crash, but the plane apparently struggled to gain altitude and then hit a signal tower before breaking apart along the Volga.

Mr. Okulov said federal transportation authorities are considering whether to halt flights by the 57 Yak—42s still in service, the state news agency RIA Novosti reported.

The two crash survivors were both reported to be in very serious condition Thursday. They have been flown to Moscow for treatment, Russian news agencies reported.

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.

Other standouts killed were Czech players Josef Vasicek, Karel Rachunek and Jan Marek, Swedish goalie Stefan Liv, Latvian defenseman Karlis Skrastins and defenseman Ruslan Salei of Belarus.

Mr. Medvedev previously has announced plans to take aging Soviet—built planes out of service starting next year. The short— and medium—range Yak—42 has been in service since 1980.

The crash is one of the worst aviation disasters in sports history.

In past plane crashes involving sports teams, 75 Marshall University football players, coaches, fans and airplane crew died in West Virginia on Nov. 14, 1970, while returning from a game. Thirty—six of the dead were players.

Some 29 people were killed when a plane carrying the Uruguayan rugby club Old Christians crashed in the Andes in 1972, including five crew and some family members.

The entire 18—member U.S. figure skating team died in a crash en route to the 1961 world championships in Brussels, and 18 members of the Torino soccer team died near Turin, Italy, in a 1949 crash.

In 1993, another plane crash claimed 18 members of Zambia’s national football team and five team officials in Libreville, Gabon.

In 1980, 14 members of the U.S. amateur boxing team were killed in a crash in Warsaw, Poland.

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