Sheyda Shadkhoo was afraid as she boarded the flight from Tehran that was supposed to have eventually returned her to her family in Toronto. She thought she was leaving trouble behind, not flying into it.
“Behind me, behind me,” she wrote in a poem she sent her husband minutes before the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing taxied down the runway.
“I’m scared for the people behind me.”
The poem and the fears she expressed for Iranian people amid growing tensions between that country and the United States were the last Hassan Shadkhoo heard from his wife of 10 years.
Flight PS752 was leaving Tehran for Kyiv — with a connection to Toronto — at a time of extraordinary uncertainty. Iranian missiles had just rained down on two American military bases in neighbouring Iraq in retaliation for the U.S. assassination of a popular Iranian general. Nobody knew how things would play out.
But it was a normal morning at Imam Khomeni International airport, a large, modern facility designed to handle millions of travellers. International hotel chains and a new terminal had opened last June.
Many Canadians on the doomed plane — 138 of 176 on board were destined for Canada — had been taking advantage of the Christmas break to visit family or celebrate milestones. The passenger list includes at least two pairs of newlyweds.
It was an early flight and sleepy goodbyes would have been exchanged in predawn darkness.
Despite the route’s 18-hour length, it’s a popular one for Iranian-Canadians. There are no direct flights between the two countries and the Ukrainian carrier offers fares affordable for the families and students who made up the bulk of those heading back to Canada that day.
The weather was fine, just above zero, a bit milder than normal.
The Boeing 737 aircraft had just passed a safety inspection days before. It began taxiing down the runway at 5:45 a.m., right on schedule, and lifted into the air about 30 minutes later.
Sahan Hatefi Mostaghim and Shahab Raana, friends who were training in Montreal to become welders, snapped a selfie of themselves shortly before takeoff. They looked calm and relaxed as they settled into their seats. Raana was already wearing his earbuds.
Fatemah Pasavand, 17, may have been looking forward to the special meal she had requested her father in Vancouver prepare for her on her return with her mother, Ayeshe Pourghaderi.
Nasim Rahmanifar, a master’s student in the University of Alberta’s mechanical engineering department, may have been bracing herself for her first winter in Edmonton. She had repeatedly asked her colleagues about what kind of coat she’d need, despite their assurances she’d get used to the cold.
Roja Azadian, making her first trip to Canada, may have also been nervous. She was joining her husband, a student at Ottawa’s Algonquin College, and friends said she was apprehensive about her new home-to-be. A ticket mix-up put her husband on a later flight.
Perhaps Arash Pourzarabi and Pouneh Gorji, returning to Edmonton just days into their married life, snuggled in to each other as the plane rose above the tarmac.
Perhaps Pedram Mousavi and Mojgan Daneshmand, a husband and wife who were University of Alberta engineering professors, were getting their daughters, Daria and Dorina, settled for the long flight ahead.
Everything seemed fine, until it wasn’t.
A preliminary report from Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization says the plane climbed to about 2,500 metres, then veered right. About five minutes after takeoff, it lost contact with air traffic control. The path suggests pilots were trying to return to the airport, the report says.
Instead, the aircraft crashed into a park, killing everyone on board.
Witnesses say and security camera video shows the plane was on fire before it crashed. The pilots made no call for help before the plane went down.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said intelligence from multiple sources indicates an Iranian missile downed the plane, although the strike might have been unintentional.
No matter why Flight PS752 crashed, people like Shadkhoo’s husband are left grieving lives as truncated as the last message he received from her.
“She said, ‘OK,'” Hassan told CBC. “‘They’re telling me to turn off my phone. Goodbye.’
“That was it.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 9, 2020
Bob Weber, The Canadian Press