'It's a tragic moment:' 31 Albertans believed dead in Iran plane crash

A newlywed couple, a family of four and a mother with her two daughters were among more than two dozen Edmontonians killed when a Ukrainian passenger plane crashed minutes after takeoff from Tehran's main airport Wednesday.

In Edmonton, at least 10 of the victims had ties to the University of Alberta

Friends said Arash Pourzarabi and Pouneh Gorji, among the 31 Albertans killed in Wednesday's plane crash in Iran, got married in Iran on Jan. 1 but planned to celebrate with a ceremony in Edmonton on their return. (Supplied by Amir Forouzandeh)

Professors, a doctor and a number of students were among the 31 Albertans killed when a Ukrainian passenger plane crashed minutes after takeoff Wednesday from Tehran's main airport.

All 176 people on board the Kyiv-bound Boeing 737 were killed.

Almost half of the 63 people from Canada identified by officials so far as having died in the crash were from Alberta. 

Payman Parseyan, a member of the Iranian community in Edmonton, said he knew many passengers who were on board the flight.

"We lost a significant portion of our community," Parseyan told CBC Radio's Edmonton AM. "Everybody in Edmonton that's of Iranian descent will know somebody that was on that flight."

In Edmonton, at least 10 of the victims had ties to the University of Alberta, the school's president and vice-chancellor, David Turpin, confirmed Wednesday afternoon.

'Devastating and shocking'

Arash Pourzarabi and Pouneh Gorji, both in their mid-20s, were graduate students in the U of A's computer science program. They had travelled to Iran for their wedding, said Reza Akbari, president of the Iranian Heritage Society of Edmonton.

He said he heard the couple was accompanied by four friends who travelled with them to celebrate the wedding.

"It's devastating and shocking," Akbari said. "It's a tragic moment."

Akbari said a group chat on the app Telegram has become a lengthy memorial, with people from the Iranian community sharing stories about those who have been lost. 

"When you go from top to the bottom, it's hard to believe — all these wonderful people ... these people who really were actually impactful in our community, they're not among us anymore. And in one incident all of them are gone."

Akbari said he knew at least eight of the victims, and knew two of them well. He said he expects the grief will spread well beyond the Iranian community.

"I have no doubt that there's so many people in Edmonton, regardless of their cultural background, they know them because there's doctors, university professors, among these people. It's just tragic."

Family of 4 killed

U of A engineering professors Pedram Mousavi and Mojgan Daneshmand, and their daughters, Daria and Dorina, were also killed, said Masoud Ardakani, associate chair of the electrical and computer engineering department.

Daria, born in 2005, attended Allendale School, and her sister, Dorina, born in 2010, attended Windsor Park School.

University professors Pedram Mousavi and Mojgan Daneshmand, along with their daughters, from left, Daria and Dorina, were among those killed in the crash of Flight PS752 near Tehran. (zaghtweet1/Twitter)

Dr. Shekoufeh Choupannejad, an obstetrician-gynecologist at the Northgate Centre Medical Clinic in Edmonton, and her two daughters, were also killed, Parseyan said. 

Both daughters were U of A students. Saba Saadat was studying medicine; her sister, Sara, was a clinical psychology student.

Parseyan said many international students can't travel to the United States, so they go through European connections.

Sina Esfandiarpour, who was close friends with crash victim Nasim Rahmanifar, said she was excited to go home to Iran during the school break, to surprise her family.

University of Alberta student Nasim Rahmanifar was one of at least 10 people with ties to the school who were killed in the crash. (Submitted by Sina Esfandiarpour)

Both were members of the close-knit Iranian community on the U of A campus where Rahmanifar was a mechanical engineering student.

This was Rahmanifar's first winter in Edmonton, he said, and she was nervous about the cold weather.

"She just came in May. She said, 'They told me that here is freezing cold.'"

"She's never going to see that," he said.

Calgary high school student among victims

On Wednesday afternoon, the Calgary Board of Education confirmed Grade 12 student Arshia Arbabbahrami, was among those killed in the crash. Arbabbahrami was an international student at Western Canada High School, and was returning to Canada after spending the holidays with his family in Iran. He had attended the Calgary school for three years.

Arshia Arbabbahrami, a Grade 12 student in Calgary, was also killed in the crash. (Submitted by Rayka Aminjavaheri )

"Arshia was highly involved in athletic activities, such as the track and field and swim and dive team," the board said in an emailed statement. "He dreamt of being a doctor and was a leader in our community who many students looked up to." 

Kasra Saati — an aircraft mechanic formerly with Viking Air — was the second Calgary-based victim CBC News has confirmed.

"His loss is deeply felt by everyone who had the opportunity to work with him," spokesperson Angela Murray wrote in an emailed statement.

"We share our sincere condolences with the family and all those impacted by this tragic event."

A community group of about 100 people has formed to make arrangements for families of the victims, Parseyan said.

"Edmonton's Iranian community isn't Canada's largest Iranian community, but we are working together to ensure all members of the community are supported during this difficult time."

According to 2016 census statistics, the Edmonton area had 4,630 people who identified as being of Iranian origin.

A man outside the Iranian Embassy in Kyiv with a memorial poster, reading 'Tehran - Kyiv, we're mourning.' (Efrem Lukatsky/The Associated Press)

Canada as a whole had 210,405 people who listed Iran as their country of ethnic origin — or one of multiple countries of ethnic origin — in that census.

The largest Iranian populations are in southern Ontario, B.C. and Quebec, with the biggest communities in:

Learned of crash on the news

Parseyan said members of the community learned about the crash while watching the news of Iran's missile attacks against two military bases in Iraq housing U.S. and coalition forces that took place a few hours before the crash.

"Many were expecting their friends and [family] members to come back ... [and] were well aware what flight they were on," said Parseyan, a former president of the Iranian Heritage Society of Edmonton.

He said one person who knew a passenger on the plane had called him and asked him for more information.

"He called and said, 'Hey, is there any chance there's a second flight to Kyiv, this is a mistake? This can't be real.' He's devastated."

Parseyan said the news is difficult for a community already concerned about ongoing aggression between Iran and the United States.

WATCH | Payman Parseyan describes the devastation felt by Edmonton's Iranian community 

Iranian-Canadian reflects on air crash tragedy affecting his community

3 years ago
Duration 7:08
Edmonton's Payman Parseyan reflects on the 'devastation' after learning people he knew were killed in the Iran plane crash

The disaster was the largest recent loss of life among Canadians since an Air India flight blew up in 1985 over the Atlantic Ocean, killing 268 Canadians.

The plane crash marks the single largest loss of life of Edmontonians. A tornado that tore through parts of the city in 1987 killed 27 people.