Latvian hockey player Kārlis Skrastiņš, who spent 12 years in North America’s National Hockey League, was among members of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team killed Sept. 7 when the Russian airplane they were traveling in crashed Sept. 7 on takeoff.
The airplane went down near Yaroslavl’s Tunoshna airport, about 300 kilometers northeast of Moscow, according to news service reports and a statement from the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). The accident happened at about 4 p.m. Moscow time.
The airplane was carrying 37 passengers—including almost the entire Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team—and eight crew members. Lokomotiv Yaroslavl player Alexander Galimov and a crew member are reported to have survived the crash, according to various news reports.
The Lokomotiv Yaroslavl was heading to its first match of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) season in Minsk, Belarus. The game was scheduled Sept. 8.
Skrastiņš, a 37-year-old defenseman, this summer joined the Lokomotiv team after playing for the Dallas Stars. He started his NHL career with the Nashville Predators. Skrastiņš also played for the Colorado Avalance and the Florida Panthers, as well as participated in the Latvian national team when it played in the World Ice Hockey Championship and the Winter Olympics.
Latvian President Andris Bērziņš expressed his condolences to Russia’s president and to the family of Skrastiņš.
“This is a shocking and black day in Latvian sports,” Bērziņš said in a statement. He called Skrastiņš a great athlete and one of the cornerstones of the Latvian national team. “He will forever remain in our hearts as a man of iron and a Latvian patriot.”
A number of other well-known hockey players were on the flight, as was Lokomotiv’s new coach, Brad McKrimmon, according to a KHL statement. McKrimmon came from the Chicago Black Hawks to lead Lokomotiv in its 2011-12 season.
“We are only beginning to understand the impact of this tragedy affecting the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl club on the friends we’ve lost and the international hockey community,” according to a statement posted on the league’s website.
Within an hour of the first reports, the KHL’s Facebook page had 350 comments about the accident, including a number from Latvia.
Latvia’s Dinamo Rīga team plays in the KHL.
Latvian media reported that several hundred people, some wearing hockey jerseys or carrying Latvian flags, gathered at Arēna Rīga to honor Skrastiņš. There they lit candles and sang the national anthem. They then marched to the headquarters of the Latvian Hockey Federation, where a memorial event was held.
(Updated 07 SEP 2011 with additional details and new headline.)
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