It was one of the worst aviation disasters ever in professional sports, shocking Russia and the world of hockey. 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.
COMMENT: Russian accident investigators concluded that the crew should have aborted the takeoff the moment they realized it was going wrong. He said one possible reason the pilot obstinately still tried to take off was a fear of reprisals from his employer. The investigative team also holds the airline, Yak-Service, responsible for failing to observe safety standards and adequately train the crew. The company was shutdown in September by Russia's federal aviation authority following a check that found severe violations.
Worse, investigators concluded that both pilots had flown a different type of aircraft with a slightly different cockpit configuration and apparently had never learned the correct position for their feet on takeoff. Instead of placing their heels on the cockpit floor as regulations require, one or both of the pilots left their feet resting on the pedals in line with old habits, inadvertently activating the brakes and slowing the plane down on takeoff. At first they didn't notice the brakes were on, and then they made the fatal mistake of failing to abort the takeoff.
Additionally, the second pilot was taking phenobarbital (a sedative used to control seizures that is prohibited for pilots), which also contributed to the disaster. He said the pilot suffered from polyneuropathy, a neurological disorder that could affect the feet and hands and cause weakness and loss of sensation. It had passed unnoticed during an official medical certification, but investigators found that the pilot had consulted private doctors about the condition.
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.
Although the crash prompted the Russian government seriously consider replacing all aging Soviet-era aircraft with Western-made aircraft, aviation experts report that recent Russian air disasters have been rooted not just in the age of the aircraft, but in a combination of other factors, including insufficient crew training, outdated airports, poorly enforced regulations and widespread neglect of safety in the pursuit of profits.