Andrei Gorshkov was coming home from school when he saw a plane and then heard a loud bang.
The crash that followed and killed at least 43 people was so horrific that it will haunt him at night.
“It was so scary,” the 16-year-old said. “It will all be coming back to me in my sleep.”
The Yak-42 carrying a Russian ice hockey team crashed on Wednesday into the small river of Tunoshonka running through Gorshkov’s village of Tunoshna, just outside the central Russian city of Yaroslavl.
He and his friends saw a huge blaze which immediately turned into smoke and rushed to the scene of the tragedy.
Half the plane was in the water, the other half broke into pieces and was scattered around the shore and the wheels were on fire.
“Everything that was in the plane was floating on the water,” Gorshkov told AFP at the sleepy village whose world has been turned upside down by the disaster.
“Two bodies were floating on the water,” he said. “The third one was being carried out of the water on stretchers, he had burns all over.”
The plane was flying members of three-time Russian champions Lokomotiv Yaroslavl to a season-opening match in the Belarussian capital Minsk when it went down a few moments into the flight some 300 kilometres northeast of Moscow.
Natalia Panova, a doctor at Tunoshna’s small hospital, was the first medic at the scene. By the time her ambulance arrived, most were beyond help.
“The plane caught fire and blew up. Someone was without a leg, someone was without a head,” she told AFP. “There was blood everywhere, mangled bodies.
I am still shaking.”
Panova treated one of two survivors, attending to crew member Alexander Sizov’s multiple wounds and fractures and giving him promedol to alleviate severe pain before he was taken to hospital in Yaroslavl.
He was in a state of shock and did not fully realise what had happened, she said, adding: “I don’t know how he remained alive.”
Another survivor, team member Alexander Galimov, who received extensive burns, was taken away by a boat, she said.
Panova said she herself had seen 16 bodies which were pulled out of the water and placed in rows on the ground.
“I’ve lived here for 30 years, and I’ve never seen anything like that,” said Panova, a local. “So many people died young. This is a tragedy for the entire country.”
By Wednesday evening, the small village was teeming was emergency officials and police who cordoned off the scene of the tragedy.
Many residents came out of their homes, quietly talking to one another or smoking in silence as night fell over the village.
They were joined by hockey fans who trickled in from Yaroslavl, some carrying flowers and crying.
Back in the city, thousands of fans converged on Lokomotiv’s ice arena bringing heaps of roses, candles and fan scarves.
President Dmitry Medvedev is expected to visit the venue on Thursday. Ahead of key parliamentary and presidential elections he had been set to address a political conference at the ice arena which has now become a sombre vigil site.
Many fans said the horrific coincidence brought home a simple question: why does not Russia protect its best and brightest?
“Why is this happening?” said Dmitry Luchnikov, who was mourning his close friend, 23-year-old former New Jersey Devils player Alexander Vasyunov.
“Why haven’t we got reliable aircraft?”
SOME OF THE VICTIMS OF THE RUSSIAN PLANE CRASH:
-Brad McCrimmon, 52, from Canada. A former Detroit Red Wings assistant who became Lokomotiv’s coach in May. Played in 1,222 NHL games between 1979-97, compiling 81 goals and 322 assists.
-Pavol Demitra, 36, from Slovakia. A three-time NHL All-Star who helped Slovakia win a world championship bronze medal in 2003. Scored 304 goals in 847 NHL games. Three-time Olympian.
-Ruslan Salei, 36, from Belarus. A defenceman who played in 917 NHL games, totaling 45 goals and 149 assists for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, Florida Panthers, Colorado Avalanche, and Detroit Red Wings.
-Alexander Karpovtsev, 41, from Russia. Assistant coach who played 12 seasons in the NHL as a defenceman with the New York Rangers, Toronto, Chicago, the New York Islanders, and Florida. Joined three Rangers teammates in 1994 as the first Russian players to have their names engraved on the Stanley Cup.
-Karlis Skrastins, 37, from Latvia. A defenceman who played in 832 NHL games, mainly for the Nashville Predators and Colorado Avalanche.
-Josef Vasicek, 30, from Czech Republic. A Czech forward who spent most of his NHL career with the Carolina Hurricanes. He was a member of the club’s Stanley Cup championship team in 2006.
-Karel Rachunek, 32, from Czech Republic. Played 371 NHL games with the Ottawa Senators, New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils, and won a world championship title with the Czech Republic in 2010.
-Igor Korolev, 41, from Russia. Assistant coach following a playing career in the NHL and KHL. In 12 NHL seasons with St. Louis, the Winnipeg-Phoenix franchise, Toronto and Chicago, he scored 119 goals in 795 games. His last NHL season was 2003-04.
-Stefan Liv, 30, from Sweden. A veteran goaltender who won Olympic gold with Sweden as a backup in 2006.
-Alexander Vasyunov, 23, from Russia. Had one goal and five points in 18 games last season with the New Jersey Devils, his only NHL experience.