September 25, 2021

Remembering Yaroslavl's Lost Hockey Team


Remembering Yaroslavl's Lost Hockey Team
Yaroslavl Memorial at Arena-2000. Via Kremlin.ru

Ten years ago this month, Yaroslavl's entire Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) team was wiped out in one freak airplane accident.

Dubbed Lokomotiv (locomotive, or train), the team has been around since 1959 and has gone by five names in its history.

On September 7, 2011, a Yak-Service flight headed from Yaroslavl to Minsk, Belarus, for a game against Dinamo Minsk plunged to the earth only seconds after takeoff. Everyone died except for one aircraft mechanic onboard. One player survived the crash but, with burns on 80% of his body, died in the hospital five days later. Perhaps the most famous players lost were Czech former NHLer Pavol Demitra and Belarusian former NHLer Ruslan Salei. Also killed was former NHLer and team coach Igor Korolev.

Yak-Service was a regional Russian airline out of Moscow with which the team routinely traveled. After the 2011 crash, it had its license revoked. The plane could not gain altitude after taking off. The accident was attributed to crew error, but it was later revealed that the pilot had falsified documents in order to gain permission to fly the Yak-42 aircraft for which he was not trained.

With no players and little front office staff, Lokomotiv sat out the 2011-2012 season and rejoined the following season with a whole new set of players.

About 100,000 people attended the farewell ceremony at Lokomotiv's arena in 2011. The city had a population of less than 600,000. Putin was among the mourners. Even the NHL in North America played several games in memory of the Yaroslavl team, wearing special patches.

Oddly enough, the Lokomotiv crash was not even the first fatal plane crash of a Russian hockey team. In 1950, most of the Soviet Air Force team, VVS Moscow, was killed in a crash landing at the airport in Sverdlovsk (Yekaterinburg).

Ruslan Salei gravesite
Ruslan Salei gravesite in Minsk. / Wikimedia Commons user Gruszecki

 

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