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.
Friends and family of B.C. residents killed in a devastating plane crash in Iran are fearful and angry after hearing the plane may have been “unintentionally” shot down by an Iranian missile.
All 176 passengers on the Ukrainian Airlines Flight PS752 — including the 138 travellers who were headed to Canada — were killed when the plane hit the ground Wednesday morning just outside Tehran shortly after take-off.
The crash killed 63 Canadians, including at least 15 who were living or studying in B.C.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canadian intelligence, along with intelligence from Canada’s allies, showed the plane was likely “shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile.” He clarified the motive was unknown, but suggested it was accidental.
Kei Esmaeilpour, founder of the Civic Association of Iranian Canadians who knew several of the victims from B.C., said the announcement from Trudeau and other countries only confirms what people in Iran have believed since the crash was first reported.
“I’m more than angry, I’m deeply sad,” he said.
“Some of the people who get out of that country, Iran, still every day they receive news, bad news, and now we have 63 of them have died and nobody knows why.”
Esmaeilpour said he’s seen several comments from other members of the local Iranian Canadian community on social media lamenting the news.
“When will we be safe?” one person wrote to Esmaeilpour. “Even in Canada we cannot be safe, because we have to go back to visit our families sometimes.”
Dr. Mahommad Reza Mivehchi, whose brother-in-law Ardalan Ebnoddin Hamid died in the crash along with Ebnoddin Hamid’s wife and teenage son, said hearing his home country may be responsible was disturbing.
“It’s supposed to be your motherland, and your motherland is not kind to you,” he said. “So it just makes this worse.”
Mivehchi said he’s also heard a lot of sympathy from non-Iranian Canadians who are shocked by the news.
“I think they think escalation was perhaps unnecessary, and we just hope the situation will de-escalate and parties will use their wisdom and keep the best interest of all people in mind in the end,” he said.
The suspected missile strike came just hours after Iran launched missiles and hit Iraqi military bases that housed allied soldiers.
That attack was in response to a U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani.
Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization has denied the latest allegations, calling them “illogical rumours,” according to state-run news.
“Scientifically, it is impossible that a missile hit the Ukrainian plane, and such rumours are illogical,” the head of the organization, Ali Abedzadeh, said, as reported by ISNA.
Experts have said there are indications the crash wasn’t caused by mechanical failure, including the lack of a mayday call and reports the plane was operating normally as it climbed following take-off.
Iranian officials have said they do not plan to release the plane’s black box to authorities, which immediately sparked suspicions for Mivehchi and Esmaeilpour.
“Why should it be like this?” Esmaeilpour asked. “Why should the Iranian government not respond to any international request?”
Mivehchi agreed, calling it a “red flag.”
Late Thursday, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada announced Iranian officials had invited it to attend the crash site.
With no signs that either Iran or the U.S. will back down from their aggressive stances in the wake of the crash — and with people in Iran suffering under harsh economic sanctions — Mivehchi said Canada now has a role to play in what comes next in the conflict.
“It’s up to our government to take decisive actions, demand answers and not just let it go,” he said. “A human tragedy like this will require action.”
With files from John Hua, Rebecca Joseph, Kerri Breen and Rachael D’Amore