Published: Sep 07, 2011 4:09 PM EDT

TUNOSHNA, Russia (AP) - A Russian jet carrying a top ice hockey team crashed while taking off Wednesday in western Russia, killing at least 43 people and leaving two critically injured, officials said.
    
The Russian Emergency Situations Ministry said the Yak-42 plane crashed immediately after leaving an airport near the city of Yaroslavl, on the Volga River about 150 miles (240 kilometers) northeast of Moscow. It was carrying 45 people, including 37 passengers and eight crew, and the ministry said all but two people were killed in the crash.
    
The weather was sunny and clear at the time.
    
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin immediately sent the nation's transport minister to the site, 10 miles (15 kilometers) east of Yaroslavl.
    
The ministry said the plane was carrying the Lokomotiv ice hockey team from Yaroslavl to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, where it was to play Thursday against Dinamo Minsk in the opening game of the season in the Kontinental Hockey League.
    
The KHL is an international club league that pits together teams from Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Latvia and Slovakia.
    
Lokomotiv Yaroslavl is a leading force in Russian hockey and came third in the KHL last year. It's coached by Canadian Brad McCrimmon and includes several international stars in its ranks, such as Stefan Liv of Sweden and Czech Republic players Josef Vaicek and Jan Marek. Lokomotiv was a three-time Russian League champion in 1997, 2002 and 2003 and took the bronze last season.
    
It wasn't immediately clear which players were on board the Yak-42 on Wednesday.
    
"We will do our best to ensure that hockey in Yaroslavl does not die, and that it continues to live for the people that were on that plane," said Russian Ice Hockey Federation President Vladislav Tretyak.
    
The short- and medium-range Yak-42 has been in service since 1980 and dozens are still in service with Russian and other airlines.
    
President Dmitry Medvedev has announced plans to take aging Soviet-built planes out of service starting next year.
    
In June, another Russian passenger jet crashed in the northwestern city of Petrozavodsk, killing 47 people. The crash of that Tu-134 plane has been blamed on pilot error.

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