Lokomotiv Yaroslavl Crash Inquiry Concludes Flight Staff Flew Unlawfully

Timothy RappFeatured ColumnistApril 26, 2014

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin lays flowers during a memorial ceremony for the victims of the Russian plane crash in the Arena in Yaroslavl, 150 miles (240 kilometers) northeast of Moscow in Russia, Saturday, Sept. 10, 2011. The chartered Yak-42 jet crashed Wednesday into the banks of the Volga River moments after takeoff from an airport near Yaroslavl. The crash killed 43 people, including 36 players, coaches and staff of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl ice hockey team, many of whom were European national team and former NHL players. (AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, Pool)
Alexei Nikolsky

Two years after the tragic plane crash that killed the entire Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team of the Kontinental Hockey League, investigators have determined that the flight crew was unlawfully permitted to operate an aircraft.

Dmitry Chesnokov of Yahoo Sports shared a statement from the official spokesman of the Investigations Committee, Vladimir Markov:

The flight crew was unlawfully sanctioned to fly by (Vadim) Timofeyev in violation of air transportation operations, and at the time of the flight it didn’t have the authorization to fly independently. In particular, the captain of the plane was cleared to fly by Timofeyev based on falsified documentation; the second pilot at the time had not yet completed his retraining for the type of aircraft Yak-42 was, and did not have the authority to fly.

Per Chesnokov:

Investigators performed forensic analysis of all evidence, interviewed hundreds of witnesses of the crash, spoke to the relatives of players and coaches and employees of Yak Service airline that was responsible for the flight. Following the investigation, only one person will be criminally charged as a result of the crash—the former deputy general director of Yak Service airline Vadim Timofeyev. Working at the airline he was responsible for flight operations. The prosecutors are charging Timofeyev with criminal negligence related to safety and operation of a plane. 

According to that report, Timofeyev faces up to seven years in prison if found guilty.

Forty-four people lost their lives when the Yak-42 jet crashed on September 7, 2011, including players, team staff and the flight crew. The team was traveling to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, to face Dinamo Minsk in the opening game of the KHL season.

Just one passenger, airline mechanic Alexander Sizov, survived the crash. Eight former NHL players and coach Brad McCrimmon—who both coached and played in the NHL—were lost in the tragedy.

According to an ESPN report at the time, the plane struggled to gain altitude, hit a tower and crashed into the Volga River. Per that report, Rene Fasel, president of the International Ice Hockey Federation, called the incident "the darkest day in the history of our sport."

He added, "This is not only a Russian tragedy—the Lokomotiv roster included players and coaches from 10 nations."

The Investigations Committee's findings are a dark conclusion to one of the most somber days in hockey history. The fact that documents were falsified for the captain and the co-pilot was not properly trained to operate the plane is a disturbing twist and a haunting reminder that the incident could have been avoided altogether.

One would guess this story is far from a conclusion, with both Timofeyev facing negligence charges and the families of the victims likely to take whatever legal recourse is offered to them. The KHL and other sporting leagues around the world will likely now carefully evaluate any plane-chartering services they employ in the wake of these findings.