'I couldn't sleep last night,' says grief-stricken B.C. travel agent who booked trips on crashed airliner
'The customers are all our family,' says Ali Najafi of Apadana Travel
Ali Najafi, the co-owner of Apadana Travel in North Vancouver, says he is devastated after learning six of his customers were passengers on the ill-fated Ukrainian International Airlines flight which crashed outside Tehran on Wednesday, killing all 176 people on board.
The flight included 63 Canadians, the majority of whom were from the Edmonton area. At least 12 of the passengers, including a family of three, had connections to British Columbia.
Najafi, who said his customers came from B.C., Winnipeg and Calgary, is reeling from the news.
"I couldn't sleep last night," Najafi said. "We knew them personally … The customers are all our family."
Najafi said one customer had called him from Tehran on Tuesday trying to get on Wednesday's flight with her two young children. Her husband was already scheduled on the flight, but now the family wanted to travel together and return to Canada earlier.
But Najafi couldn't book the trio on the flight, as there were no seats left.
Her husband left on the flight. He is among the dead.
"Today morning she called and she was crying," Najafi said, breaking down in sobs.
"I don't know if I should be happy or sad because at least they could save their lives because there wasn't seats available on that flight."
Another passenger his agency booked was a young student who had to cancel an earlier flight because her visa did not arrive on time.
"She told us 'Thank you so much to help me to visit my family and I will bring you guys something from Iran as a gift,'" he said.
"But she was on that flight."
Najafi said Flight PS752 to Kyiv was a popular route because it was well-priced, and it could get you from the Ukraine capital to Toronto. At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said a total of 138 passengers from the ill-fated flight were scheduled on a connecting flight to Canada.
Najafi and his colleagues have been fielding phone calls all day from anxious customers trying to rebook trips, some of them eager to leave Iran sooner than anticipated because of its rising tensions with the United States.
He says he and his colleagues are doing their best to rebook customers through different airlines to get them home as soon as possible, but it's tough given the limited routes between Canada and Iran.
"You can't do anything, right? We just sell the ticket."
With files from Bal Brach, Alexander Gibb, On The Coast