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‘As fresh as yesterday’: remembering the Western University students killed in Iran plane crash

Click to play video 'Devastated Canadians mark anniversary of Flight PS752 disaster' Devastated Canadians mark anniversary of Flight PS752 disaster
WATCH: Devastated Canadians mark anniversary of Flight PS752 disaster – Jan 8, 2021

Gone but not forgotten, a year after four Western University students were killed in the crash of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, their memory and the possibility of what could have been are still very much alive.

Ghazal Nourian, Milad Nahavandi and Hadis Hayatdavoudi were all finishing PhDs in the sciences. 

Sajedeh Saraeian was an incoming master’s student about to start her studies in chemical engineering. Her husband, Mohammad Javad Mianji, was also killed in the crash.

“It’s been a year and it seems as fresh as yesterday. We still think of her a lot,” said Jamie Noel, an assistant professor of chemistry at Western.

Hayatdavoudi was Noel’s PhD student, working at the Electrochemistry and Corrosion Science Centre.

Because of the coronavirus gathering restriction, Noel said it would be hard for people to get together for such an “emotional situation” without being able to comfort one another, so he said each will mark the anniversary in their own way.

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Read more: Iran plane crash, one year later — 13 victims with ties to Edmonton remembered as brilliant, loving

Hadis Hayatdavoudi Western student killed in flight 752 in Tehran
Hadis Hayatdavoudi Western student killed in flight 752 in Tehran. Western University

A memorial has been set up at the chemistry building for Hayatdavoudi, and Noel said her family is even in the process of having a school named after her in Iran.

Thanks to a $30,000 donation to the school, the Hadis Hayatdavoudi Graduate Scholarship in Chemistry has also been established in her name.

“She came from halfway around the world by herself to follow her dreams, and she did it in a very brave but happy way,” Noel said.

Read more: Trudeau marks 1 year since Iran plane crash — ‘I cannot imagine your pain’

Like the other three students who died, Hayatdavoudi was on track to achieve a high level of education and was working on a project that could have had a real impact on the world.

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“Hadis was working on aspects of the permanent disposal of nuclear waste, which is a huge issue for the world,” Noel said.

“Most of the people on that plane were really on the highly educated end of the spectrum and that’s a loss for Iran and Canada as well.”

Milad Nahavandi, a Western student killed on Flight 752 in Tehran
Milad Nahavandi, a Western student killed on Flight 752 in Tehran. Western University

Nahavandi was in his final year of his PhD at the Electrochemistry and Corrosion Science Centre.

“He was always smiling and wanted to talk about everything,” said Ajay Ray, a professor in chemical and biochemical engineering at Western.

“He always used to come to my office and he would start with academics and then we would get into politics and sports.”

Ray said he knew Nahavandi quite well and that he and his other students still talk about him.

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“They died so young, and for no reason — something like that should not happen.”

“What happened was very unfortunate and a loss of young life that would have done so much for themselves and their families.”

Ray said Nahavandi has hopes of one day becoming a professor.

Read more: Donations from Canadians being disbursed to families of Flight 752 victims

Western student Sajedeh Saraeian with her husband, Mohammad Javad Mianji, both killed on Flight 752 in Tehran. Western University

Although he never met Saraeian, Ray says she was an incoming student to their department about to start her master’s in the chemical engineering program.

“I looked at her application at the time, she was so bright, and she was coming to start her new life in Canada and had just gotten married.”

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He noted that Saraeian wrote in her application it was her goal to find a cure for diabetes and help people battling the disease.

At last year’s memorial, friend Pooneh Farhat spoke about Saraeian and her husband’s work with orphans in Iran and their desire to one day have kids of their own.

“She had a golden heart who loved and was loved,” Farhat said.

Ghazal Nourian, a Western student killed in flight 752 in Tehran
Ghazal Nourian, a Western student killed in flight 752 in Tehran. Western Unviersity

Nourian was working on her PhD at Western in mechanical and materials engineering.

Similar sentiments about the loss of someone with a bright future were shared by Alan Shepard, president of Western University.

In a statement to mark the anniversary, Shepard described Nourian as a highly motivated, enthusiastic and hard-working student.

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“It was unthinkable then — and remains so today — that such promising young lives could end this tragically, this senselessly,” Shepard said.

“Adding to our sorrow was the knowledge that there were many other students and academics on that ill-fated flight who were affiliated with other universities and colleges across Canada.”

Western is participating in an online international event hosted by the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims.

To honour all the lives lost, the Ontario government has established a scholarship program in memory of the victims, of which Western University will receive four, each worth $10,000.

All 176 passengers aboard the flight died when Iranian forces shot down the plane. Of those aboard, 55 were Canadian citizens, 30 were permanent residents and 53 more were travelling to Canada, according to the federal government.

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Read more: Canadian man who lost family in Iran plane crash calls compensation ‘a slap in the face’

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he will declare Jan. 8 a national day of remembrance for the victims of airline disasters.

Tehran has blamed the downing on human error, claiming Iranian forces fired after mistakenly identifying the plane as a threat.

A report released in the summer blamed those manning a misaligned surface-to-air missile battery, saying they opened fire without getting approval from ranking officials.

Questions remain over the identities of the people deemed responsible, and countries, including Canada, have called on Iran to disclose all relevant evidence.

—With files from Amy Judd