THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
MOSCOW — The only member of a top Russian hockey team to survive a plane crash that killed 44 people died Monday of his injuries in a Moscow hospital, a final bitter blow to all those who mourned the team’s loss.
The Vishnevsky hospital said 26-year-old Alexander Galimov died of the severe burns that covered about 90 per cent of his body, despite the best efforts of doctors in its burn unit, considered one of the best in Russia.
The crash Wednesday of a chartered Yak-42 jet outside the western city of Yaroslavl took the lives of 28 players, two coaches and seven other staff of the local Lokomotiv Yaroslavl ice hockey club. The only other person to survive, flight crew member Alexander Sizov, remained in intensive care at Moscow’s Sklifosovsky hospital.
Unlike many other members of Lokomotiv who were European Union citizens and once played in the NHL, Galimov was a native of Yaroslavl and a product of its youth program. His initial survival had inspired the entire city, where the team was a source of great pride.
At rallies following the crash, fans chanted "Galimov, live for the whole team!" and other slogans dedicated to him.
"All of Yaroslavl, all of the country, all of the world followed the doctors’ words, believing, hoping, praying that he would defeat death and remain with us," Yaroslavl Gov. Sergei Vakhrukov said Monday.
The governor described Galimov, a forward, as a fan favourite who remained true to his home club for many years.
"He carried the team spirit of Lokomotiv and through his indomitable character often reversed the course of the most difficult games," Vakhrukov said.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev presided over a meeting Monday to decide the future of the team. The team decided to pull out of the Kontinental Hockey League for a year while it rebuilds, but will bring up players from its farm system and compete in a lower league starting in December.
"We can’t leave the city without hockey," Vsevolod Kukushkin, an adviser to the KHL, told The Associated Press. "It’s a hockey city."
A memorial ceremony Saturday in the Lokomotiv ice arena drew an estimated 100,000 people, including Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
The crash, one of the worst ever aviation disasters in sports, shocked all of Russia and the international hockey community.
The team was heading to Minsk, Belarus, to play its opening game of the Kontinental Hockey League season when the plane crashed into the Volga River bank shortly after takeoff and burst into flames.
Russian aviation experts say they have come to no conclusions yet about the cause of the crash. The plane appeared to have trouble gaining altitude, but investigators say its flight data recorders showed that all three engines were operating up until the moment the plane crashed.
Aviation authorities have ordered safety checks on all the approximately 60 Yak-42 jets still in service in Russia, and grounded at least four of them.
Experts blame Russia’s poor aviation safety record on an aging fleet, weak government controls, poor pilot training and a cost-cutting mentality.