Search for crash plane's recorders
President Dmitry Medvedev has called for rapid changes in Russia's troubled air transport industry as the country mourned a crash that killed 43 people, among them most of a leading hockey team.
The crash on Wednesday, which killed 36 players, coaches and staff of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team, drew new attention to the poor safety air records of Russia and some other former Soviet republics. Experts blame the age of the aircraft, weak government controls, poor pilot training and a cost-cutting mentality.
Investigators could not immediately pinpoint the cause of the crash of the Yak-42 jet on to the banks of the Volga River shortly after take-off from Yaroslavl, 150 miles north east of Moscow. Workers are labouring to raise the plane's shattered tail section, where one of the on-board recorders is, Russian news agencies quoted emergencies minister Sergei Shoigu as saying.
The plane crashed on the opening day of an international forum in Yaroslavl that was to showcase the city as a modern and vibrant city. Mr Medvedev lay flowers at the crash site and met officials including transport minister Igor Levitin.
"The number of air companies should be radically reduced and it's necessary to do this within the shortest time," Mr Medvedev said at the meeting broadcast on Russian television. It was not immediately clear what measures the government could take to cut the number of air carriers, many of which are small, regional operations of uncertain financial health. Mr Levitin told Mr Medvedev there are about 130 air carriers throughout Russia, but that 85% of passengers are carried by just 10 companies.
On Thursday morning, hundreds of local residents gathered at the city's Russian Orthodox cathedral to mourn the victims.
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 Yak-42s. There are 57 of the planes in service in Russia, the state news agency RIA Novosti said.
There were only two survivors and both are reported as being in serious condition. Among the dead were Lokomotiv coach and NHL 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 defenceman Karlis Skrastins and defenceman Ruslan Salei of Belarus.