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 cause of the crash is currently unknown, although Iran cited “technical problems.” As the investigation continues, Ukraine’s Embassy in Tehran issued a statement ruling out terrorism and then removed it.
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 Qasem Soleimani, Iran fired more than a dozen missiles targeting Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops just four hours before the Ukraine International Airlines jet went down.
The victims include 82 Iranians; 63 Canadians; 11 Ukrainians, 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: 13 of the passengers were under the age of 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 the year 1990 or after, meaning their lives came to an end at the age of 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 had 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 the British newspaper, The Telegraph. “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 Iran during the Christmas holiday break and was on his way back to the U.K. 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.”
Canada has not yet confirmed the number of Canadian victims. 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 University of Alberta in Canada has confirmed that two of their professors who were married, 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. broadcaster Wednesday.
Payman Parseyan, a member of the Iranian-Canadian community in nearby Edmonton, told Canadian Broadcasting Corp. that he knew many people on the plane.
“There was 27 of them total from our community,” Parseyan told Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Radio’s Edmonton AM.
Parseyan told Canada’s Global News that other victims from Edmonton’s Iranian community included a doctor, medical student and student of clinical psychology.
“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 Global News. “Then they move here and they do all this, just to board a plane and have it all washed away.”
Michael 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 PhD 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 PhD 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 PhD student in civil engineering.
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 just six days before, according to local media.
The couple were computer engineering students at Sharif University, an Iranian university on Sharif 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,” tweeted Mojtaba Abbas Nejhad, who was on his winter break from the University of Toronto, on Tuesday. “Guys, forgive any good and bad you experienced with me.”
Abbas Nejhad was on the plane.
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The Washington Post’s Amanda Coletta contributed reporting from Toronto.