EDMONTON — Amir Samani never got a chance to personally congratulate his two friends on their wedding in Iran and he can’t believe that he never will.
Arash Pourzarabi and Pouneh Gorji were among at least 63 Canadians who were killed when a Ukrainian passenger jet crashed shortly after takeoff from Tehran on Wednesday.
Early reports suggested up to 30 of the Canadian victims were from Edmonton, stunning the small Iranian-Canadian community in Alberta’s capital.
“I’m a big denier right now. I can’t understand what’s going through my mind,” a tearful Samani said Wednesday at the Iranian Heritage Society.
“I even check my phone to see is (Arash) going back online again? Will I talk to him?
Pourzarabi and Gorji were computer science students at the University of Alberta. They had gone home to Iran over the Christmas holidays to get married in front of friends and family.
Some of those wedding guests were also on the flight when it crashed and killed all 176 people aboard.
Amir Forouzandeh, who helped Pourzarabi pick out his wedding suit, said the couple was very much in love and got married on New Year’s Day.
“They were super excited for that day. If you met them even once, you could tell that these two belonged together,” he said. “We all knew they were going to end up together. It was just a matter of time.”
He said they were “two of the kindest souls I knew.”
The crash took the lives of several students and instructors at the university, including mechanical engineering professor Pedram Mousavi, his wife Mojgan Daneshmand, an electrical engineering professor, and their two young daughters, Darina and Darya.
Hossein Saghlatoon, a post-graduate student who worked with Mousavi for six years, said he spent late Tuesday frantically calling around after he saw news of the crash, hoping his mentor Mousavi and the professor’s family were not on the plane.
“I couldn’t accept it,” he said. “I had to take some pills to go to sleep with the hope I would wake up and this was a nightmare.”
Saghlatoon said he and other students had formed a close bond with the family.
“They were the happiest people you could ever see. I still have his laughing voice in my head,” he said.
“He was always making jokes. He was always trying to push you to get to your best in the best way possible, both of them.
“We’re all crying in the lab. We’re like people who lost our parents.”
Maryam Hejazi, soccer coach to nine-year-old Darina, recalled a child with an agile, relentless mind who questioned everything: What’s this soccer drill? Why are we doing it? Why are we doing this drill and not that drill?
“I said, ‘I can’t answer all of your questions. You’re too smart,'” said Hejazi.
She said she saw the children’s mother out shopping before they left for Iran. Daneshmand told her Darina was coming back for another season of soccer.
“I was expecting this Sunday she was going to be back to the team. It’s so sad.”
Reza Akbari, president of the Iranian Heritage Society, said the group will decide in the coming days how to honour the memory of those who died. The enormity is still sinking in, he said.
“It’s a shocking, massive tragedy,” he said, recalling his reaction as the names of people he knew continued to grow and grow overnight.
“(You tell yourself) this is a nightmare. It’s not happening and it’s not true.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 8, 2020
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press