At least 63 Canadians, including British Columbians, are dead after a Boeing 737 Ukrainian airliner crashed shortly after takeoff in Tehran, Iran early this morning.
The Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800, bound for Kyiv, crashed shortly after taking off from the Iranian capital, killing all 176 people on board, including 138 people who were en route to Canada. At least 63 were Canadians.
Ukrainian authorities initially said it appeared mechanical failure was to blame, but later walked that back, saying nothing had been ruled out.
Air Canada, the only Canadian air carrier that operates in the region covered by the FAA NOTAM, has altered its routes to ensure the security of its flights into and over the Middle East
— Transport Canada (@Transport_gc) January 8, 2020
Ukraine will help Canada participate in the Iranian-led investigation of Wednesday’s plane crash near Tehran that killed dozens of people from their countries, says the Ukrainian envoy in Ottawa.
“The investigation on the ground is conducted by Iran and Ukraine will of course contribute,” Andriy Shevchenko, Ukraine’s ambassador to Canada, said in an interview. “We’re ready to do everything we can to help the investigation. We hope that the Canadian offer of contribution into the investigation will be recognized and appreciated.”
The Ukrainian offer is significant because Canada broke diplomatic relations with Iran in 2012, shuttering its Tehran embassy and expelling its diplomats. The government cited Iran’s support of terrorism and concerns for the safety of its diplomats. Canada has also been a vocal critic of Iran’s human-rights record, including at the United Nations.
B.C. Premier John Horgan said British Columbians were among the 63 Canadians killed in the crash.
“Our hearts and thoughts are with the families and friends of loved ones lost and the greater Iranian-Canadian community in B.C. that enriches life in our province,” Horgan said in a statement.
“As we wait for answers about what happened, we join with nations around the world that are mourning this tragic loss of life. We share in their grief.
“The Canadian flag at the Parliament Buildings in Victoria will be flown at half-mast to mark the deaths in this plane crash.”
Major airlines are playing it safe, diverting flights from Iranian and Iraqi airspace, including Air Canada, the only Canadian air carrier that operates in the region, which has altered its routes.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada will work with its international partners to investigate the cause of the plane crash thoroughly. Transport Minister Marc Garneau said on Twitter that Canada would offer technical assistance in the crash investigation.
My thoughts are with all those affected by the heartbreaking tragedy involving Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 carrying many Canadians.
We are in touch with our international counterparts and Canada is offering technical assistance to the upcoming investigation.
— Marc Garneau (@MarcGarneau) January 8, 2020
“Our minister of foreign affairs had a phone conversation with the Iranian minister of foreign affairs, so we have established contact on this. We also have our Ukrainian Embassy on the ground in Tehran,” said Shevchenko.
“It is heartbreaking. We have been such close friends with Canada and share so many good things. Now we will have to walk through this pain together.”
The Transportation Safety Board said it appointed an expert to monitor the progress of the Iranian investigation. “The TSB remains available to provide any technical assistance requested by Iranian and Ukrainian accident investigation bodies,” it added.
Ukraine has determined that a “substantial portion” of the 63 Canadians had booked onward tickets on a flight to Toronto and were not stopping in Kyiv, said Shevchenko.
Others aboard were likely bound for Canada but aren’t citizens.
Ukraine officials are also working closely with the Iranians to identify all the victims and repatriate their remains, Shevchenko added. The Ukraine government has dispatched two planes to Iran to help with that grim task.
The Conservative defence critic says he doesn’t want the Iranian government to block access to investigators from Canada or any other countries affected.
“I would encourage the Iranian regime to co-operate with the international investigation, and in particular allow Canada, Ukraine and the other nations who lost citizens on that flight to be involved in that investigation, regardless of the regional tensions right now and the politics surrounding the recent attacks,” Tory MP James Bezan said in an interview.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement said the United States wants “complete co-operation with any investigation into the cause of the crash.”
The crash occurred just hours after Iran launched missile attacks on bases in Iraq where American troops are stationed. Iran said the attacks were retaliation for the American killing of a top general near Baghdad last week.
The Iranian military disputed any suggestion the plane had been hit by a missile, and Iranian aviation authorities said they suspected a mechanical problem brought down the 3 1/2-year-old Boeing 737. Ukrainian authorities initially said it appeared mechanical failure was to blame, but later walked that back, saying nothing had been ruled out.
“Families deserve to get a full report on exactly what happened,” he added. “I don’t think we can speculate on the cause of the crash, but answers have to be forthcoming,” said Bezan. “I’m sure families would be devastated if Iran blocked access of international investigators from helping out with the full investigation into what caused the crash.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said on Twitter: “These families deserve clear answers, but whatever the cause, this is devastating.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne and Garneau are reaching out to their international counterparts, Trudeau said.
“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,” Trudeau said in a statement.
“Today, I assure all Canadians that their safety and security is our top priority. We also join with the other countries who are mourning the loss of citizens.”
Champagne described the situation as “extremely fluid,” adding he had been in touch with his Ukrainian counterpart.
Trudeau also offered condolences to the loved ones of those who died.
“This morning, I join Canadians across the country who are shocked and saddened to see reports that a plane crash outside of Tehran, Iran, has claimed the lives of 176 people, including 63 Canadians,” said Trudeau.
“We also join with the other countries who are mourning the loss of citizens.”
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer also offered his condolences on Twitter, calling it a “horrific tragedy.”
“Today is a sad day for our country,” Scheer wrote.
The crash comes hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack targeting two bases in Iraq housing U.S. forces in retaliation for the killing of prominent Iranian general Qasem Soleimani.
In a presidential address Wednesday morning, U.S. President Donald Trump said there were no U.S. casualties in the strikes due to an effective early warning system.
According to Canada’s Chief of Defence staff, no Canadian Armed Forces troops were hurt either, in the barrage of Iranian missiles.
Prior to the attacks, the Canadian military shifted some of its soldiers from Iraq to Kuwait, calling the move a temporary measure. It’s unclear if the United States did the same.
Friends and family in Canada were left to consult a passenger list the airline released to learn if their loved ones were among the dead following the crash of Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752
Here is a look at some of the victims of the plane crash who lived in Canada:
Pedram Mousavi, Mojgan Daneshmand, Daria Mousavi and Dorina Mousavi
Payman Paseyan, a member of the Iranian-Canadian community in Edmonton, said his friend Pedram Mousavi, an engineering professor at the University of Alberta, died along with his wife Mojgan Daneshmand and their daughters Daria Mousavi and Dorina Mousavi.
“They had two young girls with them. I can’t imagine what was going through their mind,” said Paseyan.
Sina Ghaemi, an engineering professor at the University of Alberta, knew Mousavi for about six years. Their offices were next door to each other.
“He was a really fun person and always laughing,” Ghaemi said. “He was a very happy person.”
Ghaemi said Mousavi worked on antennas and had published many highly cited papers in the field.
“He was very prolific.”
Ghaemi said it was a sombre morning in the department.
“Everyone is in shock. Things are quiet and people look sad. The whole faculty’s kind of in shock.”
Zahra Naghibi was a colleague of Jacqueline Stagner at the University of Windsor. Stagner said she was informed by the head of the lab where Naghibi worked that she was on the plane.
“She was very helpful and warm,” Stagner said.
Naghibi was a part of Windsor’s Turbulence and Energy Lab, where she worked on issues related to solar energy.
Stagner said when one of her students – just starting graduate work and new to Canada – needed help, Naghibi stepped in.
“Zahra was giving her advice, helping her out, letting her learn from her own work and what she’d discovered – helping her along, the next generation of researchers. She was very welcoming.”
Ardalan Ebnoddin Hamidi, Niloofar Razzaghi and Hamyar Ebnoddin Hamidi
The president of the Vancouver-based Civic Association of Iranian-Canadians, Kei Esmaeilpour, said a Vancouver family of three was killed in the crash.
Esmaeilpour said Ardalan Ebnoddin Hamidi, an engineer, and Niloofar Razzaghi, who had just completed university training to become a teacher, lived in Vancouver with their 15-year-old son Hamyar Ebnoddin Hamidi.
Esmaeilpour said the family was vacationing in Iran.
He said he worked with Ebnoddin Hamidi and the two had served on the civic association together for at least a decade.
Ghanimat Azdahri and Milad Ghasemi Ariani
The University of Guelph identified two victims as Ghanimat Azdahri, a PhD student in the department of geography, environment and geomatics, and Milad Ghasemi Ariani, a PhD student in marketing and consumer studies.
The school said they were on the way back to Canada from visiting Iran.
University president Franco Vaccarino said his thoughts go out to the two students’ families.
The union representing Ontario’s high school teachers said employee Alina Tarbhai was among those killed.
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation said Tarbhai worked at the union’s provincial office in Toronto, but it offered no other details about what took her to Iran.
“She was respected and well-liked by all. Her passing represents a profound loss for all of us who worked with her,” the federation said in a statement posted to Facebook.
Parisa Eghbalian and Reera Esmaeilion
A dentistry in Aurora, Ont., confirmed that Parisa Eghbalian, a dentist, and her daughter Reera Esmaeilion died.
Eghbalian’s husband, Hamed Esmaeilion, is also a dentist at E&E Dentistry, but was not travelling with his wife and child.
Eghbalian first immigrated to Canada in 2010 and lived with her husband and daughter in Richmond Hill, Ont., said her biography on the dentist office’s website.
Shekoufeh Choupannejad, Saba Saadat and Sara Saadat
Shayesteh Majdnia, a past president of the Iranian Heritage Society of Edmonton, said she was close friends with Shekoufeh Choupannejad, a gynecologist who died along with her two daughters Saba Saadat and Sara Saadat.
Majdnia said she had spoken to Choupannejad’s husband, who is still in Iran, for confirmation. She said Choupannejad also leaves behind a son who was not on the trip with the family.
“She was the kindest person I had ever met,” Majdnia said of Choupannejad.
She said Choupannejad was always there for community fundraisers, and often did her best to help take appointments with new immigrants who were overwhelmed and unable to find immediate medical help.
Amir Shirzadi, a board member with the Manitoba Iranian Student Association, said his good friend Amirhossien Ghasemi was on the plane.
Shirzadi said his friend was visiting family in Iran and was on his way back to Winnipeg. Ghasemi was a graduate student in biomedical engineering at the University of Manitoba.
“I saw him before he left the country,” said Shirzadi, who added that the two played games together.
“I can’t use past tense. I think he’s coming back. We play again. We talk again. It’s too difficult to use past tense, too difficult. No one can believe it.”
Iman Aghabali and Mehdi Eshaghian
McMaster University released a statement that said it believed two of its students, Iman Aghabali and Mehdi Eshaghian, were among the victims.
The school said Aghabali and Eshaghian were both PhD students in the faculty of engineering.
“McMaster is a tightly knit community and there will be many faculty, staff, colleagues, friends and fellow students who need our support and caring at this tragic time,” said president David Farrar.
The McMaster Iranian Student Association also paid tribute to the two.
“Mehdi and Iman were two kind souls who always celebrated Iranian traditions with our community,” the association said.
“It is devastating for the entire McMaster community to hear the painful passing of young students who left behind their families and motherland in hopes of a better future career.”
Jude Uzonna, the Health Research Chair and an associate professor of immunology at the University of Manitoba, said he was devastated by the death of his friend and colleague Forough Khadem.
He met her at a conference in Iran where she was a translator. At the end of the conference Uzonna told her if she ever wanted to do a doctoral program she could come to his lab in Winnipeg. She took him up on the offer and graduated about three years ago from the University of Manitoba.
Khadem was a talented immunologist and an absolutely fantastic person to be around, Uzonna said.
“If you walk into a room and Forough is there, you will try to find out who is this lady. She is very affable. She connects with people,” he said. “It’s devastating.”
She went home to Iran in December to visit family. He texted her Monday to say he hoped that she was doing well. She responded that she was coming back to Winnipeg and hoped to see him soon.
“Now she’s gone,” he said.
With files from Canadian Press.