EDITOR’S NOTE: Community leaders initially believed that 27 people with Edmonton connections died in the plane crash. However, they and Global News, have confirmed 13. We have updated this story to reflect the new information.
Of the 63 Canadians killed in a plane crash near Tehran, Iran on Wednesday, 13 have been confirmed as having connections to Edmonton, according to both the current and former presidents of the Iranian Heritage Society of Edmonton.
A newlywed couple returning from their wedding, a physician and her daughters, engineering professors with their young family, and graduate students are among those identified as local victims. Many of them had connections to the University of Alberta.
Dr. Shekoufeh Choupannejad was an obstetrician and gynecologist at Northgate Medical Clinic. Born in 1963, she was in her late 50s and was on the plane with her two daughters, Saba and Sara Saadat. Both daughters were born Esfahan, Iran, but lived in Edmonton.
Saba, born in 1998, wanted to be a doctor. She studied at the University of Alberta, earning a Bachelor of Science before applying to the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry.
The Social Engagement, Empowerment, and Development Society (SEEDS) said Saba was one of their volunteers, adding she “was an intelligent and compassionate part of our team.”
“Saba’s dream was to become a physician and we had full confidence that she was going to make the world a better place through her future endeavours,” the statement said.
“Her time with us was too short, but she touched many lives with her wonderful personality and her tireless and selfless work.”
Sara, born in 1996, attended the U of A as well and earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology with a minor in Sociology. Friends said she had just gotten into a clinical psychology program at Alliant University in San Diego, California.
“I cannot believe we have lost that many people… I think every Iranian in the community has the same feeling,” said Shayesteh Majdnia, who said she was Choupannejad’s best friend.
“She was always the first one, when anything happened within the community, to come contribute, help, be there for us,” Majdnia said, adding Choupannejad would use her job as a physician to help help new residents.
LISTEN: Payman Pareseyan, former president of the Iranian Heritage Society of Edmonton, joins Danielle Smith to discuss how the city’s Iranian community is reacting to the Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 crash
“Any newcomer that would come from Iran, I would call her and I’ll ask for her to help. She would jump in, get them an appointment.”
Friends said after moving to Edmonton seven-and-a-half years ago, the family made trips back home almost every year. But Majdnia told Global News the doctor’s son and husband were not on the plane for this trip.
Reza Akbari, the current president of the Iranian Heritage Society of Edmonton, said there may have actually been around 30 people from Edmonton on the flight. He became aware of the tragedy late Tuesday night when he opened Telegram, a messaging app similar to WhatsApp that’s popular in Iran.
He saw videos showing a plane crash, with people speaking in Farsi, and then a lot of chatter about who might have been on the flight. He recognized some of the names.
“The majority of them are students of University of Alberta, faculty members, members of our community,” he said.
LISTEN: Jock Wilson, an aviation expert, joins Danielle Smith to talk about the plane crash
Arash Pourzarabi and his new wife, Pouneh Gorji, were both computer science researchers at the University of Alberta. They had their wedding in Iran on Jan. 1 and were returning to Edmonton to continue their studies.
Amir Forouzandeh went to school with both Pourzarabi and Gorji. He called the newlyweds the “kindest souls I knew.”
“If you met them even once, you could tell that these two belong together,” said Forouzandeh, who was in the same program at the U of A as the couple.
“We understand at least 30 Albertans lost their lives aboard Ukrainian International Airlines flight 752, in one of the largest single disasters for Albertans in our history,” Premier Jason Kenney said.
“We don’t have all the facts, but we do know that a number of distinguished Albertans were aboard that flight.
“Many of them having travelled to Iran to attend the wedding of post-graduate students at the University of Alberta: Arash Pourzarabi and Pouneh Gorji.”
Kenney said that his thoughts are with the Persian community in the province, which is small and close-knit.
“I’m sure that virtually every member of the Albertan Persian community was close to, or knew somebody affected by the flight crash.”
Two other University of Alberta professors – a married couple with two daughters – are among the victims.
Pedram Mousavi, who also went by the last name Mousavibafrooei, was an engineering professor at the university. Born in 1972, he earned a Bachelor of Science from Iran University of Science and Technology in 1995.
The mechanical engineer was on the plane with his wife Mojgan Daneshmand and their two daughters Daria and Dorina.
Daneshmand, born in 1976, was an associate professor of electrical engineering at the U of A and Canada Research Chair in radio frequency microsystems.
Colleague Hossein Saghlatoon said the couple was famous in their field of work.
“It’s such a big loss — not only for Alberta, not only for Canada — for everyone working in this field.”
“Today I was at the department and I saw some faculty and they just got the news. Everyone was in tears. All the students were in tears, all the faculty members, everyone,” Saghlatoon said.
“They were such sweet people. They were such kind people. Best teachers. I could say best boss I’ve ever had in my life.”
Saghlatoon said they were the happiest family and their two daughters “were their whole lives.”
Their eldest daughter Daria was born in 2005, and their youngest, Dorina, was born in 2010. Dorina, 9, was described by her soccer coach as smart, inquisitive and safety conscious.
“She was so smart,” Maryam Hajazi said, “constantly asking questions.”
Two University of Alberta graduate students were also confirmed as victims on Wednesday by an official at the school.
Amir Hossein Saeedinia, born in 1994, was a new PhD student at the Centre for Design of Advanced Materials. An advisor confirmed to Global News that Saeedinia was set to arrive in Edmonton to begin his studies this week and that he was a passenger on the flight.
Nasim Rahmanifar, born in 1994, was a graduate research assistant at the Faculty of Engineering at the U of A. An advisor at the U of A confirmed she was focused on mechanical engineering and that she was also on the flight.
“She was so excited to go back,” friend Sina Esfandiarpour said. “She was texting me: ‘My finals are over.’ She planned to surprise her mom. She didn’t tell her she was coming back.”
Two other victims were confirmed as being students at the U of A: Mohammad Mahdi Elyasi and Elnaz Nabiyi.
Payman Parseyan, a former president of the heritage society, also said many of the victims were family members and he knew some of the passengers.
“They leave behind families and people they love and they come to Canada and often they’re second guessing, ‘Should I leave my family behind to do this’?” Parseyan said.
“Then they move here and they do all this, just to board a plane and have it all washed away.
Parseyan said members of the Iranian-Canadian community learned of the crash while being glued to the news after Tuesday’s missile attacks in Iraq.
“Many were expecting their friends and families members to come back … (and) were well aware what flight they were on,” Parseyan told The Canadian Press.
“They were worried about their family members that were in Iran and now this has compounded that with worry for the community.”
Global News is working to independently confirm the identities of the other victims.
Mayor Don Iveson issued the following statement on the plane crash in Iran:
“I was heartbroken to hear this morning of the devastating news that many Canadians, including Edmontonians, have died in a fatal plane crash near Tehran, Iran. While no words can erase the pain this crash has caused, I, on behalf of Edmontonians and your City Council, would like to offer the families and friends who have lost a loved one in this tragedy our deepest condolences.
The mayor’s office said flags at city hall would be lowered to half-mast.
LISTEN: Aviation legal expert and aerospace engineer says early evidence suggests Ukraine flight that crashed near Tehran was either shot down or experienced a mid-air explosion from within the plane.
The U of A’s president David H. Turpin said that the community on campus was reeling from the devastating loss.
“It’s a tragic day here at the University of Alberta,” Turpin said. “Words simply cannot express the grief we’re experiencing on campus. We’re a tight-knit community and we grieve when everyone is touched by such terrible loss,” he said.
“This is a tremendous loss of life and incredible talent. Our community is in mourning and we’re going to honour everybody lost in this tragedy.”
The University of Alberta’s flags will be lowered to half-mast and counsellors were brought in.
Turpin said there are close to 500 Iranian students on campus. He said the university is working to determine the exact number of students and faculty who were on the flight.
Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 to Kyiv, Ukraine went down after taking off from the airport in Tehran, killing all 176 people aboard.
Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Vadym Prystaiko said 63 Canadians, 82 Iranians and 11 Ukrainians were on board — the Ukrainian nationals included two passengers and the nine crew.
There were also 10 Swedish, four Afghan, three German and three British nationals on the plane.
The airline has released a list of the passengers on the plane, which includes the year they were born but not their nationalities. The youngest person listed was born in 2018 and the oldest in 1945. There were 33 people on board who were listed as 20 years old or younger.
The plane had been delayed from taking off from Imam Khomeini International Airport by almost an hour. It took off to the west but never made it above 2,400 metres in the air, data from the flight-tracking website FlightRadar24 indicates.
It remains unclear what happened. The plane, fully loaded with fuel for its 2,300-kilometre flight, slammed into farmland near the town of Shahedshahr on the outskirts of Tehran.
Videos taken immediately after the crash show blazes lighting up the darkened fields before dawn.
— With files from Global News’ Allison Bench and Hannah Jackson, The Canadian Press, and Reuters