Probe continues into doomed Russian flight

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Probe continues into doomed Russian flight

From Comcast SportsNet Friday, September 9, 2011

MOSCOW (AP) -- All three engines on a Russian jet that slammed into a riverbank were operating up until the moment of the crash and the plane's stabilizer and flaps were in a proper position for takeoff, Russian experts said Friday.

Still, the Moscow-based Interstate Aviation Committee, which is conducting the crash probe, had no conclusions yet about the cause of the crash that killed 43 people, mostly members of a top Russian ice hockey team.

The comments came as aviation experts examined flight data recorders from the crashed plane and began safety checks Friday on Yak-42 jets nationwide.

The chartered Yak-42 jet crashed Wednesday into the sides of the Volga River on a sunny, clear day moments after taking off near Yaroslavl, a city 150 miles (240 kilometers) northeast of Moscow.

It was one of the worst aviation disasters ever in sports, shocking Russia and the world of hockey, for among the dead were 36 players, coaches and staff of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team. The team had been heading to Minsk, Belarus, to play its opening game of the Kontinental Hockey League season.

Two men survived the crash -- player Alexander Galimov and crew member Alexander Sizov -- but they were in critical condition Friday, both in medicated comas after being transferred to Moscow for treatment. Hospital officials said Galimov had burns over 90 percent of his body.

The Interstate Aviation Committee said magnetic tapes holding the flight information in the data recorders were wet, but its experts have begun deciphering those segments that have dried out, learning about the engines. The committee didn't specify, however, whether the engines were giving the full thrust.

The Tunoshna airport's runway was three times longer than required for that type of plane but the plane had still failed to accelerate sufficiently before takeoff, Russian Deputy Transport Minister Valery Okulov said.

Authorities were also checking fuel supplies at the Tunoshna airport, suspecting that low quality fuel could have caused the crash. The airport has been allowed to resume operations but planes were barred from using local fuel.

Yaroslavl Gov. Sergei Vakhrukov, however, insisted that the fuel couldn't have been the cause, since another plane using the same fuel had flown without any problems.

The crashed jet was built in 1993 and one of its three engines was replaced a month ago, transportation officials said.

Aviation authorities also were running safety checks on all the approximately 60 Yak-42 jets currently in service in Russia, which was expected to lead to disruptions in service. An Associated Press reporter was among the passengers ordered to disembark Friday from a Yak-42 jet bound on an internal flight from Moscow.

In Yaroslavl, where there has been an outpouring of public grief over the deaths of the hockey players, a memorial service was to be held Saturday at the team's arena. Several squads from the Kontinental Hockey League were traveling to Yaroslavl to take part.

Thousands of fans have already come to the Yaroslavl arena to pay their respects, laying mounds of red roses and carnations outside its walls.

President Dmitry Medvedev has called for sweeping reforms to Russia's aviation industry, including replacing aging Russian jets with Western planes.

Experts blame Russia's poor aviation safety record on an aging fleet, weak government controls, poor pilot training and a cost-cutting mentality.

Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

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Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

BRIGHTON, Mass. – It certainly doesn’t feel like it will go on forever this way for the Bruins, but at this point it’s essentially a case of musical left wings on the David Krejci line as it’s been for much of this season. 

Ryan Spooner has spent the majority of the season adjusting to playing the wing with Krejci, and has been just okay trying to play away from his natural center spot while using his speed and playmaking on the wing. But the speedy Spooner also spent his share of time lately on the fourth line after getting off to a slow offensive start this season with three goals and eight points along with a minus-1 rating in 23 games. 

The bouncing between the second and fourth line has undoubtedly been frustrating for the 24-year-old getting pushed off his natural position after posting 49 points in his first full year as a third line center. But Spooner has continued to toe the company line, work on keeping his confidence high for a productive offensive season and do what he needs to in an effort to get off a fourth line.

That’s opened the door for hard-nosed former Providence College standout Tim Schaller to get some top-6 forward time on the Krejci line as well, but he’s just posted a single assist in the last three games while working hard to keep up offensively with David Krejci and David Backes. The 6-foot-2, 219-pound Schaller has the grittiness to do the dirty work for that line in the corners and in front of the net, and he can certainly skate well enough for a big, energy forward. 

“To think this was going to happen, I would say ‘no’,” said Schaller when asked if he could have predicted at the start of the season that he’d be getting a look from the B’s in a top-6 role. “I’ve been able to play with whoever and whenever my whole career. I wouldn’t want to say it’s one of those things that I had expected, but I’m always ready for it. 

“We’ve been working pretty well together. I don’t know that we’ve had too many great [offensive] opportunities to capitalize on, but Backes and Krejci are good enough players that they’ll come. They’re good enough to bury on those chances, so the goals will come. I’m always going to play the same way no matter who I’m with. Those guys might have the puck on their sticks a little longer than other linemates of mine, but that will just create more space and opportunities.”

So Spooner and Schaller bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table as the B’s coaching staff searches for the right fit alongside Krejci and Backes, and Julien sounds like a coach that’s going to keep swinging back and forth between the two players. He certainly did that with Spooner during the third period in Philly, which led to an immediate goal for Krejci in the third period comeback, and toward the end of the Carolina win with the B's desperate for offense. 

Julien also didn’t rule out Matt Beleskey getting another look there as well with the Bruins having a tough time finding anybody to consistently fill Loui Eriksson’s role from last season.

“At times I don’t think that offense has been producing much because maybe it’s lacking a little bit of speed at that time, so you put Spooner back up there. But sometimes you feel like that line isn’t winning enough battles or spending enough time in the offensive zone, so you put Schaller back in there because he’s going to play a little grittier. So we’re looking there,” said Julien. “We’d love to be able to find somebody to be a consistent player there. We’ve had Matt Beleskey there and that line never really did anything. 

“[Beleskey] has been much better on the [third] line and he’s been getting more chances, so I’ve been trying to put the best scenario together, I guess. Sometimes it’s the situation and sometimes it’s the matchup [against the other team] as well. So there are different reasons for that. I’ve just got to make it work. If it’s working with [Schaller] on that night then you stick with it, and if you don’t think you’re getting enough then you move [Spooner] there and see if you can a little spark with some speed. It doesn’t mean Beleskey won’t go back there. That’s what we have right now.”

So it’s clear Julien, and the B’s coaching staff, have simply tried to find something that will work on a consistent basis with a couple of key offensive players on Boston’s second most important forward line. The one wild card in all of this: the impending return of Frank Vatrano, who has been skating for nearly two weeks as he works toward a return from foot surgery.

Vatrano was initially penciled in as the left winger alongside Krejci to start NHL camp this fall, and the Bruins were hoping he was going to build on the eight goals he scored in Boston last season in a limited role.

Vatrano could be ready to play within the next couple of weeks, and should be back in the B’s lineup prior to the early January timetable originally offered at the time of his surgery. So perhaps the 22-year-old Vatrano can end this season-long carousel of Bruins left wingers getting paraded on and off the Krejci line, and finally give the B’s greater options at left wing. 

But the Czech playmaking center could use some stability also as he looks to find the highest level of his game in a challenging year for the Black and Gold, and do it while the Bruins find the right kind of talent to skate alongside him.