Moscow - Russia began three days of mourning Thursday for the 43 people who died when a plane carrying an ice hockey team crashed near the central city of Yaroslavl on Wednesday.
Most of the victims were players or staff from the top-level professional ice hockey side Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. Eleven foreign nationals were among the dead, according to news reports.
The Soviet Yak-42 passenger plane taking off from an regional airport outside Yaroslavl failed to gain altitude on takeoff and clipped a runway antenna before crashing and breaking apart.
Rescuers had by dawn recovered all the bodies while doctors battled to save the lives of the only survivors. Flight engineer Aleksandr Sizov and Lokomotiv forward Aleksandr (Sanya) Galimov sustained extensive burns and other injuries and were in a critical condition, hospital officials said.
President Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday visited the crash site, some 250 kilometres northeast of Moscow, and laid red roses on the bank of a river. Russian television showed portions of the wreckage still visible in the water.
Fans in the city of Yaroslavl, meanwhile, had filled the entrance to the Lokomotiv ice hockey arena with flowers and candles.
A banner posted by fans read: 'Sanya, keep fighting! The country is with you!'
Investigators said the most likely cause of the crash appeared to be failure of one of the plane's engines after take off.
Authorities were searching for the plane's black boxes, or flight recorders, which are believed to be in a tributary of the Volga river, along with portions of the fuselage.
The Continental Hockey League, which is made up of Europe's strongest ice hockey clubs, among them Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, cancelled all matches planned for Thursday in honour of the victims.
YAROSLAVL, Russia (Reuters) - Candles flickered beside mounds of red carnations at the stadium of one of Russia's top ice hockey teams on Thursday after almost the entire team was wiped out in a plane crash that killed 43 people.
Fans and players across the world paid tribute to the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team, the day after the Soviet-designed Yak-42 passenger plane slammed into a river bank just outside Yaroslavl, 250 km (150 miles) north of Moscow.
Many fans flocked to the stadium soon after the crash and left team scarves as well as flowers beside the stadium wall. Some were in tears. Others chanted the names of the players before going home late on Wednesday evening.
"Tears on the ice," Russia's popular Tvoi Den newspaper said on its front page under a picture of the squad on the ice. "Yet another terrible air crash has shaken Russia," it said.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who was due to speak on Thursday at a political conference taking place at the club's stadium, expressed condolences to the relatives of the victims.
"Lokomotiv fans are grieving, the whole country is grieving," said Medvedev, who was expected to visit the crash site.
Condolences also poured in from abroad after the crash, which raised concerns about the safety of Russia's ageing fleet of passenger planes.
International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel sent his condolences from the global ice hockey community and Russia's Kommersant-FM radio station said players from other hockey teams were offering to help rebuild the team.
Only one of the 37 players and team officials on board survived the disaster, reviving memories of a plane crash in 1958 which killed many of English soccer club Manchester United's players.
Emergency workers quoted by Russian news agencies said they were still searching the waters of the Volga River where the plane crashed.
Two people survived but were in a grave condition.
The player who survived was offenseman Alexander Galimov, who hospital doctors said had burns over 90 percent of his body. The other survivor, one of the eight crew on board, was also in critical condition.
Lokomotiv's squad includes players and coaches from several countries -- among them Czech Republic, Slovakia, Sweden, Germany and Canada.
Witnesses including fishermen on the Volga River said they heard loud bangs as the plane crashed into the ground, bursting into flames, soon after take off.
Russian investigators said they believed the crash was caused either by faulty equipment or pilot error, although weather conditions were excellent.
The team has been on its way to a match in Minsk, the capital of Belarus.
Technical failure, pilot error most likely theories behind Yak-42 crash near Yaroslavl
Today at 10:44 | Interfax-Ukraine
No traces of explosives have been found at the site where a Yakovlev Yak-42 passenger airplane crashed on Wednesday, Russian Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin told Interfax.
"Investigators are looking into all of the possible theories behind what happened. However, the most likely theories are a technical malfunction or pilot error," Markin said.
It has also been established that the airplane was performing a charter flight, and it took off from the airport's singe runway according to the schedule, he said.
Fifty-four investigators, criminologists and specialists from the Investigative Committee's central office, as well as its territorial branches and transport investigative departments are currently working at the site.
Investigative Committee deputy director Vasily Piskarev is coordinating their work.