EDITOR’S NOTE: On Jan. 10, the Canadian government updated the number of Canadians killed in the Jan. 8 Ukraine International Airlines crash in Iran from 63 to 57.
A family of three from Ajax, Ont., a Greater Toronto Area dentist and several high school and university students are among the 57 Canadians who were killed when a Ukrainian passenger plane crashed near Iran’s capital just minutes after takeoff.
Toronto resident Omid Arsalani told Global News it was around 3 a.m. Wednesday when he learned that his sister, Evin Arsalani, 30, her husband, Hiva Molani, 38, and their one-year-old daughter Kurdia had been killed.
The family was on their way home to Ajax, Ont. — about an hour outside Toronto — from Iran, where they had attended a wedding on Dec. 8.
“I just wish that I could wake up and that it would be a dream,” Arsalani said. “My sister was my best friend.”
Arsalani first learned about the crash when his older brother knocked on his door and told him his sister was on the flight.
“I opened the door and I had no idea what was going on,” he said. “I asked him: ‘Are they OK? Are they alive? What’s going on?’”
“He said: ‘Every soul on the plane is dead. Not one person made it.’”
Arsalani said the last time he spoke with his sister was Jan. 2 on her 30th birthday.
“The whole time we talked, we cracked jokes, had a good time as she celebrated her birthday,” he said.
A spokesperson for CIBC, where Evin worked, said the company was “deeply shocked and saddened.”
“We are deeply shocked and saddened by the tragic loss of Evin, Hiva and their young daughter,” Trish Tervit, director of public affairs with CIBC, said in a statement. “Evin will be missed by her colleagues and friends here at CIBC. Our thoughts and condolences are with their families at this difficult time. “
Saharnaz Haghjoo and her eight-year-old daughter Elsa Jadidi were also confirmed to have been on board the flight.
Haghjoo worked at YWCA as a manager of JUMP Scarborough, which is a support program for newcomer women.
“We are devastated about the loss,” said Firoozeh Radjai, an executive at YWCA. “She was truly an incredible part of the team.”
Global News has confirmed that Aurora, Ont.-based dentist Parisa Eghbalian, 43, and her nine-year-old daughter Reera Esmaeilion to have been killed in the crash.
Eghbalian’s heartbroken colleagues remember her as kind and loving mother.
“She was the nicest person I have ever seen with the biggest smile and laugh. Her laugh is always in my ear,” Manijeh Ghotb told Global News.
“She was beautiful inside and out. Her daughter Reera was adorable… a really nice kid.”
Another colleague, Golnar Ghazvinian, said Eghbalian was always positive and had an infectious smile.
Eghbalian also worked at the Dawson Dental Centre in Guelph, Ont., which was closed on Thursday “out of respect” for her and her team.
“Dr. Parisa, who worked out of our Guelph South office, was adored by our entire team. She was a deeply kind, caring and wonderful person,” a statement posted to the Dawson Dental Centres Facebook page reads.
“Our thoughts are with her husband, family and friends during this difficult time.”
A married couple Iman Ghaderpanah, a mortgage specialist, and Parinaz Ghaderpanah, an RBC employee, are among the residents from the Greater Toronto area who were confirmed to have died in the crash.
The couple volunteered regularly in Tirgan, an Iranian-Canadian non-profit that celebrates arts and culture, according to Mehrdad Ariannejad, who is on the board of directors.
“They were working very closely with us and we knew them personally,” Ariannejad told Global News. “They were really lovely, great people… Parinaz was an energetic person, a very positive person.” Iman Ghaderpanah who worked with Mortgage Alliance in Toronto is remembered as a “well respected and friendly” colleague.
“It’s really sad news, very shocking,” Yasmine Soliman, director of communications at Mortgage Alliance, told Global News. “He was really well liked.” RBC, where Parinaz worked as a branch manager, said it was deeply saddened to learn she and her husband were on the flight.
“Our thoughts are with all the victims and their families,” said Gillian McArdle, a spokesperson for RBC. “Our immediate focus is on supporting Ms. Ghaderpanah’s family and our colleagues and clients who worked with her.
York Region has confirmed the death of Bahareh Karami, a technologist with the region. Flags at city facilities will be held at half-mast until her funeral in Tehran is held.
“Bahareh’s colleagues speak very highly of her,” said York Region Chief Administrative Officer Bruce Macgregor. “She is being remembered for her love of family, a dedicated and strong work ethic, and great sense of enthusiasm.”
Mehrzad Zarei, father of 18-year-old Arad Zarei from Richmond Hill, confirmed his son was on board the flight. Arad was visiting his mother for Christmas and was heading home to finish his semester at Richmond Green Secondary School, his father said.
“He was the apple of my eye and his energetic demeanour and caring personality left a lasting impression on his classmates and many friends,” Mehrzad said in a statement.
“His loss will undoubtedly leave a gaping hole in the lives of the many he touched.”
Friends of Suzan Golbabapour confirmed to Global news the Richmond Hill resident and ReMax agent was also a victim of the crash.
55-year-old Afifa Tarbhai, an accounts administrator with Briarlane Property Management, and her 31-year-old daughter Alina Tarbhai, an administrative clerk with the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), were confirmed to be among the victims.
“Afifa was a kind soul with a warm smile and shy laugh,” said a spokesperson for Briarlane Rental Property Management Inc. “Our staff is devastated by this news and our thoughts and prayers are with their family and everyone else affected by this tragedy.”
Harvey Bischof, president of OSSTF, told Global News that Alina worked at the union’s provincial office in Toronto.
“Alina was a valued employee, and part of a tightly knit team at provincial office. She was respected and well-liked by all. Her passing represents a profound loss for all of us who worked with her,” Bischof said in a statement.
Faezeh “Fran” Falsafi was identified as one of the victims by her colleague at Homelife Bayview Reality, Olga Moss. She was returning to Toronto with her two children.
“I walked into the kitchen and looked at the TV yesterday morning and just thought ‘God, please don’t tell me one of us is on that plane,” Moss said who then later received a phone call that confirmed her fears.
“It’s very difficult. She was such a beautiful person… a beautiful soul. A nice soul. Something about her… she was like a magnet.”
Paris Kalantari, a close friend, said Falsafi was also a mechanical engineer graduate from Sharif University of Technology in Iran before moving to Canada.
Kalantari said Falsafi moved to the Toronto area to build a better life for her kids
“She was a role model for many young Iranian girls, whom could see that you can pursue your dreams and never give up,” she said.
Greater Toronto Area resident, Sheyda Shadkhoo worked as a control substances coordinator and was confirmed to be on the flight by a colleague at SGS in Markham, Ont.
Shadkhoo was returning from a three-week vacation in Tehran visiting her family for the holidays.
“She was so caring, so kind, so clever, so full of energy and positivity,” said Niloofa Kalantari who worked alongside her for seven years. “She always had a very beautiful smile… we all loved her and are so sad this happened to her.”
Sadaf Hajiaghavand, who was born in 1992, lived in Toronto. Her presence on the flight was confirmed by the travel agency through which she booked her trip, Marouf Travel.
A spokesperson for the York Region District School Board said they are not able to comment on exact numbers of victims but confirmed there were multiple victims attending numerous schools in the region.
“We are heartbroken by the news and our thoughts and deepest condolences are with all those affected. This is a global tragedy affecting us locally and we join our families and communities in grieving,” read a written statement from the director of education and school board chair with York Region.
The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) has confirmed that “a number of TDSB students and their family members” are among the victims, along with a family member of at least one employee.
Spokesperson Ryan Bird identified the students killed as: Sophie Emami, a senior kindergarten student at Lillian Public School, Arnica Niazi, a Grade 3 student at Finch Public School, Rahmtin Ahmadi, a Grade 4 student at Muirhead Public School, Arsam Niazi, a Grade 6 student at Pleasant Public School, and Maya Zibaie, a Grade 10 student at Northern Secondary School.
“On behalf of the Toronto District School Board, we offer our sincere condolences to their friends, family, teachers and classmates,” read a joint statement released by John Malloy, the TDSB’s director of education, and TDSB chair Robin Pilkey.
Married couple, Mohsen Salahi and Mahsa Amirliravi attended Ryerson University and were confirmed deceased by their employer at Forest Hill Real Estate.
The University of Toronto released a statement confirming the identities of Mojtaba Abbasnezhad, Mohammad Asadi Lari, Zeynab Asadi Lari, Mohammad Amin Beiruti, Mohammad Amin Jebelli and Mohammad Saleheh.
George Brown College and York University have also each confirmed a student death.
City of Toronto Reaction
Mayor John Tory spoke with the media about the tragic crash, promising the support of the city as the situation continues to develop.
“It seems fairly prevalent in those wonderful communities in Toronto, both Iranian and Ukrainian, that a fair number of people might end up being from Toronto,” said Tory.
“Of course, no matter where they are from, it’s a tragedy and we will be reaching out to those communities.”
Ontario School Reaction
Elsewhere in Ontario, the University of Guelph confirmed that two of its students, identified as Ghanimat Azhdari and Milad Ghasemi Ariani, perished in the crash.
The University of Ottawa confirmed three of its students were killed in the crash. Western University confirmed that four of its students were among the victims. Ontario Tech University has confirmed two were on board.
The University of Windsor confirmed that at least five individuals who appear on Ukrainian International Airlines’ Flight PS752 passenger list are members of the University of Windsor student and research community.
“The entire University of Windsor is heartbroken by this news and we extend our heartfelt condolences to the family, friends, and colleagues of everyone impacted by this terrible tragedy,” said President Robert Gordon.
“At this very difficult time, we will support each other as a university family and will provide counselling and additional support services to anyone on campus in need.”
The Iranian Canadian Congress is planning a vigil in honour of the victims on Thursday night at the North York Civic Centre.