MOSCOW (AP) — A pilot helping to investigate a Russian jet crash that killed former St. Louis Blues players Pavol Demitra and Igor Korolev as well as 42 others said Thursday that a simulation pointed to pilot error as the cause.

The Yak-42 jet crashed into the banks of the Volga River on Sept. 7 moments after takeoff from the city of Yaroslavl in western Russia, wiping out the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl professional ice hockey team, which included several former NHL players.

Test pilot Vasily Sevastyanov told state-run Channel One television that the plane went into a spin because a pilot pulled it up too sharply following an abnormally slow run.

Officials have not yet announced the reason for the crash, but have said that all the plane’s systems were functioning normally until impact.

Russian media reports said the investigators believe that one of the pilots accidentally activated the wheel brakes during takeoff, while another pilot pulled the plane up to a critical angle in a desperate attempt to get it into the air. The sharp maneuver caused the jet to crash immediately after takeoff.

Sevastyanov, who participated in the crash simulation at the Zhukovsky flight test center outside Moscow, said a “braking force” kept the plane down during its run, and an attempt to raise the plane’s nose would lead to a crash.

The only person who survived the crash, flight engineer Alexander Sizov, told Channel One from his hospital bed that he couldn’t say whether the plane’s brake was activated during takeoff.

The crash was the latest in a string of air disasters that have raised concern about plummeting aviation safety standards in Russia and prompted President Dmitry Medvedev to suggest replacing all Soviet-era aircraft with Western-made planes.

Industry experts note, however, that the recent air crashes in Russia are rooted not simply in the planes’ age, but in a myriad of other problems, including insufficient crew training, crumbling airports, lax government controls and widespread neglect of safety in the pursuit of profit.

Copyright Associated Press

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