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'A catastrophic loss'

Sports | The demise of an entire sports team in a plane crash is tragic and not unprecedented

Issue: "Finding their way," Oct. 8, 2011

The crash of a Russian airliner near the city of Yaroslavl on Sept. 7 claimed the lives of an entire Russian hockey team. The accident killed 44 of the 45 passengers on board, leaving a crew member as the sole survivor. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman called the tragedy "a catastrophic loss to the hockey world."

Recovering from such a loss will be no small task. The Lokomotiv team was among the brightest spots in an emerging Russian national hockey league seeking to compete with the NHL for the world's top talent. Fans in the region were devastated by news of the crash, all the more when the team's lone potential survivor, 26-year-old Aleksandr Galimov, died from his injuries five days later. Fans had rallied around Galimov as a symbol of their team living on. His death sent crowds of mourners numbering up to 100,000 spilling into the Yaroslavl streets.

Sports tragedies of this magnitude are not unprecedented. Due to the frequent air travel modern athletics requires, numerous teams have gone down in plane crashes. Here's a look at the accident and aftermath of a few such disasters.

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• In 1950, a plane carrying the Russian national hockey team went down in a snowstorm. Terrified of how Russian dictator Joseph Stalin might react, his son Vasily Stalin, the team's manager, covered up the incident by quickly recruiting a whole new team.

• In 1961, the U.S. figure skating team lost their lives Feb. 15 via plane crash while en route to the world championships in Prague. The loss sent the once dominant U.S. figure skating program into a seven-year tailspin, but also prompted the creation of the USFS Memorial Fund in honor of the victims. The fund, which remains active today, aids development of promising young skaters throughout the country and played a critical role in the support and training of Olympic gold medalists Peggy Fleming and Scott Hamilton. This past February, the film RISE, which depicts the events leading up to and following the crash, commemorated the 50th anniversary of the tragedy.

• In 1970, almost all players and coaches of the Marshall University football team died in a plane crash in West Virginia on Nov. 14. New head coach Jack Lengyel rebuilt the team with sophomores and freshmen who had not been on the plane. Marshall would win two games the following season, both significant upsets. The story of the school rallying together inspired numerous documentaries and the 2006 Warner Bros. feature We Are Marshall. To this day, the fountain in the school's plaza shuts off from Nov. 14 to the start of spring practice the following year.

• In 1972, a chartered flight carrying a Uruguayan rugby team and their friends and family members crashed in the Andes Mountains on Oct. 13. Many died from the impact and others soon after from the cold and an avalanche. But 16 passengers managed to survive for more than two months by eating the flesh of those who had died. The survivors were rescued via helicopter on Dec. 23 after two passengers made a nine-day trek to find help. The story inspired two books and the 1993 feature film Alive, starring John Malkovich and Ethan Hawke.

• In 1993, the players and coach of the Zambian national soccer team died when their plane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Gabon on April 27. The team was headed to a FIFA World Cup qualifier. A new team quickly assembled in time for the African Nations Cup, where Zambia shocked the continent by advancing all the way to the final match. Despite losing to Nigeria, the Zambian players returned home to a hero's welcome.


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