September 08, 2011

Soviet Hockey Air Disaster of 1950



From a young age Latvian Harijis "Harry" Mellups, pictured above, showed athletic promise. He would grow up to play football (soccer), basketball, boxing and hockey. As an adult he focussed on two sports: football in the summer and hockey in the winter, winning Latvian championships in both sports for the team Dynamo Riga.

On the ice Mellups was a celebrated goaltender. In the 1946 season he reportedly gave up only 3 goals all season long. Not surprisingly Dynamo Riga won the Latvian championship that season.

The Soviet Union made it's historic entrance into international hockey in 1948. For the very first game (a 6-3 win over Czechoslovakia) Mellups was in goal. By 1949 he had fully transferred to Moscow to play both football and hockey, and was instantly recognized as one of the earliest stars in Soviet hockey.

That all came to a crashing halt in 1950. An airplane carrying Mellups, fellow Latvian Roberts Sulmanis and several other members of the Soviet Air Force hockey team crashed near Yekaterinburg (which at the time was known as Sverdlovsk). There were 19 people on board, including 11 hockey players and 2 team medical staff. There were no survivors.

Even more heart-breaking: Mellups' son was born 6 days earlier. He never had a chance to hold his own son.

The other hockey players on board were: Ivan Novikov, Zdenek Zigmund, Yuri Tarasov, Yuri Zhiburtovich, Victor Isaev (another goaltender), Alexander Moiseev and coach Boris Bocharnikov. Coach Bocharnikov wanted his team to fly rather than to take the train, as was originally planned, so that the team had 3 extra days of practice. For whatever reason Vsevolod Bobrov, the first great Russian hockey star, was permitted to take the train.

The team was run by Vasiliy Stalin, son of Russian leader Josef Stalin. Vasiliy feared repercussion from the incident, and kept it secret. The state run media never made mention of the accident. A replacement team was formed in quick order, as if nothing had ever happened.

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