Russian ice hockey club Lokomotiv Yaroslavl announced Saturday it will not participate in the Continental Hockey League (KHL) this season as it continued to come to terms with a plane crash earlier this week in which most of its squad was killed.
"The main priority now is to take care of the relatives and to pay last tribute to the late players and staff," club president Yury Yakovlev said, according to Russia Today.
"The other aim is to re-build a competitive team. This will take some time as well as requiring human resources. But we are determined to resume participation in the KHL in 2012."
Tens of thousands of people jammed the hockey arena in Yaroslavl on Saturday to pay respects to victims of the crash, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin joined a stream of mourners who lay flowers along a row of coffins containing remains of players, coaches and staff of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team. Police estimated the crowd, which spilled into the square outside under a cold rain, at 100,000 people.
Wednesday’s crash of a chartered Yak-42 jet shortly after takeoff from the Yaroslavl airport killed 43 of the 45 people aboard, including 35 from Lokomotiv. The three-time KHL champion was en route to Minsk, Belarus, for its season-opening match.
"For the first time in my life, I had trouble entering an ice arena," Vyacheslav Fetisov, the league’s president and a former National Hockey League star, said during the televised ceremony. "It’s an inexplicable tragedy."
The dead included European and former NHL players. The bodies of three Czech players Friday night were repatriated to Prague, where a funeral service was to be held Sunday.
Fetisov renewed a call by the league’s 23 other teams to rebuild Lokomotiv by volunteering as many as three players each. The league includes teams from Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Latvia and Slovakia.
Athletes from some of those teams were among the mourners Saturday. In a live video feed set up by the league, two commentators at the ceremony read the dead players’ biographies and achievements against a backdrop of somber music.
Russian investigators have reported no conclusions about the cause of the crash. They said all three engines were operating until the moment of the plane went down on a bank of the Volga River.