Academics, students and a couple that travelled to Iran to get married, were among the 63 Canadians killed when a Ukrainian passenger jet crashed shortly after taking off from Tehran early on Wednesday.
- About 30 Iranian-Canadians from Edmonton were on the plane
- Canadian PM Justin Trudeau wants Canada to play a big role in Iran’s crash probe
- The crash ranked among the worst losses of life for Canadians in an aviation disaster
All 176 people on board the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 were killed when the plane crashed en route to the Ukrainian capital Kiev.
Among the victims were 167 passengers and nine crew members — 82 Iranians, 11 Ukrainians, 63 Canadians, 10 Swedes, four Afghans, three Germans and three British people.
The crash came hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on Iraqi bases housing US soldiers, but Iranian officials said they suspected a mechanical issue brought down the three-year-old Boeing 737-800 aircraft.
Ukrainian officials initially agreed, but later backed away and declined to offer a cause while the investigation was ongoing.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowed his Government would get answers. Canada’s Foreign Minister was in touch with the Ukraine Government, and the Transport Minster was reaching out to his international counterparts.
“Our Government will continue to work closely with its international partners to ensure that this crash is thoroughly investigated, and that Canadians’ questions are answered,” Mr Trudeau said in a statement.
“There is a clear need for answers … Canada is very concerned on this.”
Arash Pourzarabi, 26, and Pouneh Gourji, 25, who were graduate students in computer science at the University of Alberta, had gone to Iran for their wedding, said Reza Akbari, president of the Iranian Heritage Society of Edmonton.
They were on the plane with four members of their wedding party and another 24 Iranian-Canadians from Edmonton, Mr Akbari said.
“Oh God, I cant believe this,” he told Reuters.
“Its shocking to the whole community.”
Mr Trudeau said 138 people on the plane were connecting to a flight to Canada.
“All had so much potential, so much life ahead of them,” Mr Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa.
“Know that all Canadians are grieving with you,” he said, addressing the victims’ families.
‘We have much to contribute’
Canada broke off diplomatic relations with Iran in 2012, but Mr Trudeau said he expected Canada to play a big role in Iran’s probe into the plane crash.
Mr Trudeau said Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne would call his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif later today to underline the need for a proper probe of the crash.
“Canada is one of a handful of countries with a high degree of expertise when it comes to these sorts of accidents and therefore we have much to contribute,” Mr Trudeau said.
“I am confident that in our engagement, both through our allies and directly, we are going to make sure that we are a substantive contributor to this investigation.”
Italy normally acts as a proxy for communication between Canada and Iran, and the Ukrainian ambassador told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation his Government was willing to help.
Mr Trudeau would not comment on possible causes for the tragedy.
“Obviously we are very, very early days on the investigation. It’s dangerous to speculate on possible causes,” he said.
Iranian state television said both of the plane’s black box voice and data recorders had been found.
The semi-official Mehr news agency quoted the head of Iran’s civil aviation organisation, Ali Abedzadeh, as saying it was not clear which country Iran would send the black boxes to for analysis of the data, but it would not share them with Boeing.
The crash ranked among the worst losses of life for Canadians in an aviation disaster.
Flags flew at half-mast across Canada, including at Parliament in Ottawa, and vigils were scheduled in several Canadian cities.
The flight was a popular transit route for Canadians traveling to Iran, in the absence of direct flights, and carried many students and academics heading home from the holidays.
‘Everyone has been crying’
University of Alberta president David Turpin said at least 10 members of the university community had died, including students, faculty and alumni.
“This is a grave loss,” he told reporters.
“Words simply cannot express the grief that we are feeling on campus.”
Among the victims was Mojgan Daneshmand, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Alberta, “a brilliant, brilliant lady, very smart,” Mr Akbari said.
Her husband, Pedram Mousavi, a professor of mechanical engineering at the same college, and the couple’s two daughters, also died in the crash.
Mr Mousavi was “like a father”, student Hossein Saghlatoon told Reuters.
The pair had travelled to Iran with daughters Daria and Dorina, aged 14 and 10, to visit elderly parents, Mr Saghlatoon said.
“Everyone has been crying since last night,” Mr Saghlatoon said.
“It’s a huge loss and the void is not going to be filled by anyone or anything.”
@theJagmeetSingh There are no words. 176 lives lost. 63 Canadians won’t be coming home. These families deserve clear answers, but whatever the cause, this is devastating. Love to their families, friends, and communities and to everyone touched by this tragedy.
A dentistry in Aurora, Ontario confirmed Parisa Eghbalian, a dentist, and her daughter Reera Esmaeilion, 9, died. Ms Eghbalian’s husband, Hamed Esmaeilion, is also a dentist at E&E Dentistry, but was not travelling with his wife and child.
The Toronto District School Board said a number of students and their family members had been killed in the crash, while the school board for York region, north of Toronto, said its schools had been “directly affected”.
Mr Champagne posted on Twitter: “Our hearts are with the loved ones of the victims, including many Canadians.”
Opposition Leader Jagmeet Singh tweeted: “There are no words. 176 lives lost. 63 Canadians won’t be coming home.
“These families deserve clear answers, but whatever the case, this is devastating.”