British Columbia·FLIGHT 752 VICTIMS

Kind, 'caring' researcher killed on Flight PS752 was visiting his wife for 1st anniversary

A postdoctoral fellow from the University of British Columbia killed when a Ukrainian jetliner was shot down in Iran is being remembered as a kind, "pure soul" who wanted to spend his life and career researching better, more sustainable ways to clean wastewater for communities.

Mehran Abtahi, 37, was a postdoctoral fellow at UBC interested in innovation in wastewater treatment

Mehran Abtahi is pictured on the B.C. coast in an undated photo. Abtahi, 37, was a passenger on Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 when the plane was shot down by an Iranian missile after taking off in Tehran on Jan. 8. (Submitted by Arman Abtahi)

This is part of a series on the B.C. victims of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, which was downed near Tehran, Iran, on Jan. 8, 2020, killing all 176 people on board.


A postdoctoral fellow from the University of British Columbia (UBC) killed when a Ukrainian jetliner was shot down in Iran Jan. 8 is being remembered as a kind, "pure soul" who wanted to spend his life researching better, more sustainable ways to clean wastewater for communities.

Mehran Abtahi was one of 176 people on board Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 when the plane was downed by an Iranian missile after taking off in Tehran on Jan. 8. The Canadian government has said 138 of the passengers on board were bound for Canada. The crash was a national tragedy.

"I wish he could see the whole nation is mourning for him; I want him to know that we all remember him and love him," said Abtahi's brother, Arman.

"He wasn't just my brother. He was my best friend. He had a good soul; a pure person. He was always there for me, no matter what the situation was."

Many of those onboard the flight were academics returning to Canada after spending the winter holiday break visiting relatives in Iran. Mehran was one of them. He had been with his wife to celebrate their first wedding anniversary in December.

The newlyweds had been in a long-distance marriage since October, when Mehran moved to Vancouver to join UBC as a post-doctoral research fellow. His wife stayed behind for her job as a pathologist and university faculty member.

In the caption of one Facebook photo, Mehran called her his "everything."

"He fell in love," Arman said.

Mehran Abtahi and his wife in an undated photo. The couple had been married since December 2018. (Submitted by Arman Abtahi)

Arman said Mehran, 37, was an environmental civil engineer, who studied at Tehran University before completing his PhD at the MESA+ Institute at the University of Twente in the Netherlands in 2018.

He was interested in wastewater treatment. His PhD thesis was centred on lowering the amount of micropollutants released from municipal wastewater treatment plants.

An online profile published to mark Mehran's graduation in 2018 said he published findings from his university research in scientific journals and had presented his work around the world in places such as Singapore, Vienna and San Francisco.

Mehran Abtahi lived in Vancouver for the last two months of his life, studying at UBC and travelling around the South Coast when he could. (Submitted by Arman Abtahi)

In a statement, UBC said Abtahi was a post-doctoral research fellow in the department of civil engineering. Postdoctoral fellows are researchers at UBC who are in training and want to study their particular area of research further, under the supervision of a faculty member. 

His brother said he wanted to be a researcher and faculty professor at home in Iran, like his wife.

Arman, who moved to B.C. first for his own studies, said he had a hand in convincing his brother to choose Vancouver.

"I was always telling him how beautiful Canada is.... Here in Vancouver, we were back together," Arman said. "We spent a lot of good time here."

The brothers' mother also joined them in Vancouver. They travelled around the South Coast when they could, visiting places such as Victoria, Squamish and Whistler.

Arman Abtahi, left, and Mehran Abtahi, right, are pictured with their mother in B.C. (Submitted by Arman Abtahi)

Arman was supposed to welcome Mehran at the airport when he landed back in Vancouver.

"I was going to YVR airport to pick him up. Instead, I went there to fly back to Iran for his funeral ceremony."

Iran has admitted it "mistakenly" shot down the jet hours after Iran's forces fired missiles at Iraqi bases where U.S. troops were stationed. The attack was in retaliation for the U.S. killing a high-ranking Iranian military general.

With files from Tina Lovgreen

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