President Dmitry Medvedev has called for an overhaul of Russia’s aviation sector after an aeroplane crash on Wednesday left nearly every member of one of the country’s leading hockey teams dead and the country in mourning.
“The situation in Russia’s civil aviation sector must be radically changed,” Mr Medvedev said at the crash site on the Volga River, 300km from Moscow and 50km from the nearest city, Yaroslavl.
“This is a serious tragedy and an incident that will have serious resonance. Everything needs to be [investigated] openly and publicly,” the president said, adding that the number of airlines must be reduced dramatically and the remaining carriers must be adequately funded.
The president has found himself under fire after a series of devastating air crashes this summer, which have brought even further scrutiny to Russia’s beleaguered aviation industry. The sector has suffered from a decline in investment and technology since the fall of the Soviet Union, and is known for its poor safety record.
While previously Mr Medvedev had tried to combat the problem by ordering that all Soviet-era aircraft be banned from scheduled flights by 2012, on Thursday he struck an angrier note, lashing out at the airlines themselves, which he said were not putting adequate resources into training their staff, and calling for a consolidation of the industry.
“There needs to be a serious focus on testing pilots – something is not right there,” Mr Medvedev said. “We need to look at each airline and all crew members’ qualifications …We need to get rid of people who do not know how to work.”
The president’s comments came as the investigative committee was trying to make sense of the crash, which killed 43 out of 45 people on board, including 36 players, coaches and representatives of the hockey team Yaroslavl Lokomotiv, a member of Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.
Only one player, Alexander Galimov, survived the crash, but he was said to be in serious condition with burns covering up to 90 per cent of his body.
Alexander Sizov, the only crew member of eight to survive, was also hospitalised.
Russia’s investigative committee said it soon expected to recover the aircraft’s data recorder from the carrier’s tail, which was partially submerged under water. The data are expected to help explain why the 18-year-old Yak-42 struggled to reach altitude after taking off on a sunny September afternoon. The aircraft crashed after hitting the antenna of a signal tower.
“We’re looking at two versions regarding the crash: either it was human error, or a technological failure in the system of the aircraft,” Valery Okulov, deputy transport minister, told reporters.
He said the jet had been built in 1993 and that one of its three engines had been replaced just a few weeks ago.
In Yaroslavl hundreds gathered at local Russian Orthodox church and at the crash site to mourn players such as Pavol Demitra of Slovakia, a veteran of the St Louis Blues and Vancouver Canucks, three Czech players and a Latvian defenceman.
Fans said they would be open to rebuilding the team by reallocating players from other clubs.
Get alerts on Russia when a new story is published