A newlywed couple. A 9-year-old girl together with her mother. Husband and wife professors.
They were among the 176 people killed in the fatal crash of a Ukraine International Airlines flight shortly after takeoff from Tehran on Wednesday. The plane was bound first for Kyiv, Ukraine, where most passengers — more than 130 — were going to change planes to head to Canada, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.
Among the victims were 63 Canadian nationals and 82 Iranians, many of whom were graduate students in the West. Other victims were from Ukraine, Sweden, Afghanistan, Germany and the United Kingdom, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said.
The 9-year-old girl who perished along with her mother used to tell her parents, “I don’t want to go to Harvard, I want to go to Hogwarts.”
The father of Reera Esmaeilion said that without her and his wife, Parisa Eghbalian, 42, he no longer knows who he is.
“I used to be ‘Hamed Esmaeilion.’ Now, at the airports of the world, I introduce myself in this way, ‘my wife and daughter were on that plane,'” he wrote on Facebook.
Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.
Of his daughter, he said, “Why did I have to call her school yesterday and say [she] will no longer be coming in?”
Also on the plane were newlyweds Arash Pourzarabi, 26, and Pouneh Gorji, 25, who were flying home to Canada after their wedding. The couple, who were both postgraduate students at the University of Alberta, were “wonderful people and brilliant scientists,” the lab where Gorji worked said in a post on Facebook.
The University of Alberta alone lost 10 people — professors, students and alumni. “We are grieving for lost colleagues, classmates, teachers and mentors, as well as loved ones, family, friends and roommates,” the school said in a statement. “These individuals were integral to the intellectual and social fabric of our university and the broader community.”
At the university, Pedram Mousavi’s office door has been turned into a makeshift shrine with photos and rose petals scattered in the doorway in memory of the professor of mechanical engineering and his wife, Mojgan Daneshmand, a professor of electrical engineering.
A memorial is scheduled for Sunday in Edmonton for the university’s 10 victims.
Eerily, a student at another university posted online before the flight an apparent joke about his possibly not surviving it, with an allusion to the conflict between Iran and the United States.
“I had predicted war at the time of my flight. Man, whatever experiences you have had with me, good or bad, have good thoughts about me,” Mojtaba Abbasnezhad, who also went by Sorush, wrote in a tweet Jan. 7, the day before the crash. He was 27, and had just begun a doctoral program in electrical and electronics engineering at the University of Toronto.
The crash site near Tehran, where passengers’ personal belongings littered the ground, is now the scene of a major international investigation. Multiple officials told NBC News on Thursday that U.S. intelligence officials have evidence suggesting that the jetliner was brought down by an Iranian missile fired in error.
Kiana Ghasemi, 19, also died in the crash, family members in Toronto confirmed to NBC News. The teenager had been planning to study in the city, they said.
The nine crew members, who were Ukrainian nationals, were among the 176 killed. The family of senior flight attendant Igor Matkov first heard about the tragedy on the news, Matkov’s father told The Associated Press.
“My daughter called at 6:15 this morning to say that in the U.S., they were reporting that a plane had crashed, a Ukraine International Airlines plane. She asked where Igor was flying to, and we said ‘Tehran’ and that he would return on the morning flight. And then we found the video of the plane crashing,” Valery Matkov said.
Yevhenii Dykhne, the airline’s president, praised the lost crew in a news conference at Kyiv’s airport Wednesday. “It was one of our best aircraft with an excellent, reliable crew,” he told reporters.
Trudeau on Wednesday expressed the collective grief of his country. “On behalf of all Canadians, I want to express my deepest condolences to those who are mourning the loss of a loved one,” he told the news conference.
“While no words will erase your pain, I want you to know that an entire country is with you. We share your grief,” he said.
Suzanne Ciechalski, Ali Gostanian, Shamar Walters, Caitlin Fichtel, Rima Abdelkader and Oksana Parafeniuk contributed.