A Ukrainian airplane carrying 176 passengers crashed minutes after taking off early Wednesday from Iran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport, killing all passengers and crew members on board.
The fatal crash unfolded during a particularly tense time in the region: In a growing conflict with the United States, triggered by the killing of Iranian commander Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Iran fired more than a dozen missiles targeting Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops four hours before the Ukraine International Airlines jet went down.
The victims include 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians in addition to nine Ukrainian crew members, 10 Swedes, four Afghans, three Germans and three Britons, according to Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry. More than 140 passengers were Iranian nationals, according to Iranian officials, suggesting that many possessed dual citizenship.
A list of names and birth dates shared by the airline capture the human scale of the loss. Some of the victims had barely even begun their lives: Thirteen of the passengers were younger than 10. Two were born in 2014, another in 2016 and one in 2018. Many victims shared the same last name, a sign they were probably related and possibly traveling with other family members. Almost half of the passengers on aboard were born in 1990 or after, meaning their lives came to an end at age 30 or younger.
As the extent of the tragedy continued to unfold, so, too, did details about the lives of the victims. Some had been traveling; others had been living abroad and visiting loved ones. At least two couples on board were newlyweds.
Thirty-five-year-old Saeed Khademasadi Tahmasebi, an engineer and postgraduate researcher at Imperial College London, had recently married Niloofar Ebrahim, a psychology student in London: Both Tahmasebi and Ebrahim perished on the plane, his brother-in-law, Amir Vaheat, told the British newspaper The Times. The couple had married in Britain and then traveled to Iran for a wedding ceremony.
“They were a wonderful, beautiful couple and they were so happy together,” Tahmasebi’s sister, Sally, 41, told Britain’s Telegraph newspaper. “This is too terrible for words. We cannot believe what has happened.
Imperial College London, one of Britain’s top universities for science and engineering, paid tribute to Tahmasebi. “Saeed was a brilliant engineer with a bright future,” the university tweeted. “His contributions to systems engineering earned respect from everyone who dealt with him and will benefit society for years to come. He was a warm, humble and generous colleague and close friend to many in our community.”
BP engineer and British national Sam Zokaei was also on the plane. He was 42 and had been working for the company for over a decade.
“With the deepest regret, we can confirm that one of our colleagues at BP, Sam Zokaei, was a passenger on the Ukrainian International Airlines plane that crashed in Iran this morning, reportedly with no survivors,” the company said in a statement to The Washington Post on Wednesday. “We are shocked and deeply saddened by this tragic loss of our friend and colleague and all of our thoughts are with his family and friends.”
Another British victim was identified by British media as 40-year-old Mohammed Reza Kadkhoda-Zadeh. The divorced father of a 9-year-old girl had traveled to visit family in Iran during the Christmas holiday break and was on his way back to Britain via Ukraine.
Kadkhoda-Zadeh ran a dry-cleaning business in the seaside town of Brighton and was fondly recalled by Stephen Edgington, who ran a business next door.
“It is so shocking and it is very upsetting for everyone who knew him,” Edgington told the Times. “He was a lovely man, very quiet and polite but a really nice guy — we got on very well indeed and it is a tragedy.”
Canadian officials say that there are at least 63 Canadians among the victims, according to preliminary reports, but noted that the number could change as more information becomes available. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released a statement Wednesday expressing his shock and condolences.
“Our government will continue to work closely with its international partners to ensure that this crash is thoroughly investigated, and that Canadians’ questions are answered,” he said in the statement. “Today, I assure all Canadians that their safety and security is our top priority. We also join with the other countries who are mourning the loss of citizens.”
The Ukrainian flight was popular among Iranians traveling to Canada, as there haven’t been direct flights between the two countries since 2012, when Canada broke off diplomatic relations. The route was also popular with Iranian nationals studying in Canada because they cannot catch connecting flights in the United States as a result of U.S. immigration policies, said Payman Parseyan, a member of the Iranian-Canadian community in Edmonton, Canada.
Canada has a sizable Iranian diaspora community that grew after the country’s revolution in 1979. According to a 2016 census, more than 210,000 people in Canada are of Iranian descent.
The crash has “devastated” Edmonton’s “fairly tight-knit” Iranian community, said Parseyan, who is the former president of the city’s Iranian Heritage Society. Iranians living in the city were closely watching coverage of the Iranian missile strikes in Iraq on Tuesday night when they learned there had been a plane crash. They quickly began piecing together whether they knew any of the victims on the Telegram messaging app.
“Initially, it was three names, and even with three names, we were getting goose bumps because they were our community members,” Parseyan said. “Then it went to 10 and we were in disbelief. As the night progressed, the number got to 27.”
The University of Alberta in Canada, which is near Edmonton, has confirmed that two married professors, as well as the couple’s two daughters, were on board the Ukrainian jet.
Pedram Mousavi and Mojgan Daneshmand were both professors of engineering and had been traveling with daughters Daria and Dorina, Masoud Ardakani, the associate chair of the university’s electrical and computer engineering department, told Canada’s Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Wednesday.
Parseyan said he knew seven of the crash victims quite well, including Mousavi.
“He was always laughing, always making fun of my political views,” Perseyan said of Mousavi. “He was a nice, enjoyable person to be around.”
Matthew Grant, the director of media relations at the University of Waterloo in Canada, said the university will provide support to anyone there affected by the crash.
“We are aware of reports that Marzieh (Mari) Foroutan and Mansour Esnaashary Esfahani, two University of Waterloo Ph.D. students, were listed on the passenger manifest of flight PS752,” Grant said in a statement. “We continue to work with the relevant authorities to obtain more information.”
Foroutan, who is listed as a Ph.D. student in geography on a University of Waterloo website, was researching how algorithms and technologies in remote sensing could be applied to study climate change. Esfahani is listed as a Ph.D. student in civil engineering.
The Canadian victims also included Parisa Eghbalian, a dentist in Aurora, Ontario, a town outside Toronto, and her daughter Reera Esmaeilion. The pair had traveled to Iran to celebrate the engagement of Eghbalian’s sister, Manijeh Ghotbi, one of her co-workers told The Post. Eghbalian’s husband and Esmaeilion’s father is Hamed Esmaeilion, a dentist and award-winning writer in Persian.
Eghbalian, who immigrated to Canada from Iran in 2010, was “a very kind, nice and happy person,” Ghotbi said. “I will never, ever forget her laugh and smile.”
Reera, she added, had big green eyes and was “beautiful inside and out.”
Alan Shepard, the president of Western University in London, Ontario, said in a statement that four of its students — three graduate students and one incoming graduate student — are among the victims.
The University of Guelph confirmed that Milad Ghasemi Ariani, a Ph.D. student in marketing, and Ghanimat Azhdari, a Ph.D. student in geography, were among the victims. Azhadri’s partner, Hamed Alibeiki, also died in the crash. All three were returning from visiting Iran, said Franco Vaccarino, the university’s president.
Azhdari belonged to a group called the ICCA Consortium, which advocates for indigenous people and their lands. The group said she was a member of the Qashqai tribe and described her in a statement as a “true force of nature” and one of its “most cherished flowers.”
“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 told Canada’s Global News. “Then they move here and they do all this, just to board a plane and have it all washed away.”
The Iranian Student News Agency also reported that a number of Iranian students were among the dead.
On social media, Iranians mourned the death of passengers Pouneh Gorji, born in 1994, and Arash Pourzarabi, born in 1993. The two had married six days earlier, according to local media accounts.
The couple were computer engineering students at Sharif University, an Iranian university on Kish Island in the Persian Gulf. The university listed them among at least 15 Sharif students and alumni who died in the crash.
As Iranians sought news of loved ones, one surreal tweet was making the rounds.
“I had predicted that night before my flight, the war would begin,” Mojtaba Abbas Nejhad, who was on his winter break from the University of Toronto, tweeted on Tuesday. “Guys, forgive any good and bad you experienced with me.”
Abbas Nejhad was on the Ukraine-bound plane.