'Such a big loss': Friends mourn U of A victims of Iran air crash

As news trickled out Tuesday evening about a plane crash outside Tehran, Hossein Saghlatoon began a frantic search for information.When he learned the crash involved a jetliner owned by Ukraine International Airlines, his heart sank.

'They were such sweet people, they were such kind people'

University of Alberta engineering professors Pedram Mousavi and Mojgan Daneshmand, along with their two daughters, were among those killed Wednesday in an airline crash in Iran. (University of Alberta)

As news trickled out Tuesday evening about a plane crash outside Tehran, Hossein Saghlatoon began a frantic search for information.

He called anyone who might know anything, and soon learned the crash involved a jetliner owned by Ukraine International Airlines.

His heart sank.

He knew his friends, University of Alberta engineering professors Pedram Mousavi and Mojgan Daneshmand were scheduled to fly out of Tehran with their daughters on a Ukrainian flight.

"I kept calling everyone," Saghlatoon said Wednesday in Edmonton. "Do you know when was his ticket? Was it today or not?"

With more phone calls, he soon figured out there was only one scheduled flight from Tehran to Kyiv.

"So I started to call everyone, to see if they were on board, if they got to the plane on time or not," Saghlatoon said.

Finally he reached a friend of a friend who was still at the airport in Tehran, and found out the family was together and had boarded the flight.

He knew then that Mousavi and Daneshmand and their daughters Daria and Dorina were among the dead.

'I constantly think this is a nightmare'

4 years ago
Duration 1:59
Friends mourn the Edmonton victims of the Iran plane crash.

Seated before the glare of cameras at a news conference hosted by the Iranian Heritage Society of Edmonton, Saghlatoon waited patiently for members of the media to hook up his lapel microphone, then spoke from the heart about Mousavi, a man he called a mentor and a friend.

"It was such a horrible day for me," Saghlatoon said, "because I was so close to him. Not only me, like everyone who ever was working … I should say for Pedram … but he didn't like that.

"Whenever we said that we're working for you, he said, 'No, we're working together.' We were part of a family, a group. He always encouraged us. He did his best to give us more."

Saghlatoon worked under Mousavi as a teaching assistant for five years. The professor was supervisor as the younger man worked on his PhD in electrical engineering.

He said he visited the department on the university campus Wednesday morning.

"Everyone was in tears," he said. "All the students were in tears, all the faculty members."

'Such sweet people'

A married couple, Mousavi and Daneshmand were kind and highly talented academics and scientists who helped create a sense of family for those they worked with, he said .

"They were such sweet people, they were such kind people," said Saghlatoon, who called Mousavi the "best boss I've ever had in my life, and I could imagine to have, ever."

He said Daneshmand's set an example that inspired many young women, some of whom did their master's degrees and PhDs with her.

The couple travelled to Iran over the holidays to visit family, Saghlatoon said.

"They had to go and visit their parents. Whomever is immigrating, they know that if you leave your families, your friends there, it's hard, and you have to take any chance you get to go back and visit them. Because this might be the last time you can."

Saghlatoon said Mousavi called him a couple of days before the family's flight home, and they talked excitedly about work they had planned for the new year.

The two professors were bright stars in the engineering world, he said.

"In the whole world, whomever is working in this field, they know them. They're famous people.

"It's such a big loss, not only for Alberta, not only for Edmonton, not only for Canada, [but] for everyone in this field.

"There is a void space that I cannot imagine anyone can fill."

Friends mourn newlywed couple

At the same news conference, Amir Forouzandeh spoke about his own personal loss. He was a friend of crash victims Arash Pourzarabi and Pouneh Gorji, both in their mid-20s, who had travelled to Iran for their wedding.

Friends said Arash Pourzarabi and Pouneh Gorji got married in Iran on Jan. 1 but planned to celebrate with a ceremony in Edmonton on their return. (Supplied by Amir Forouzandeh)

The three were all graduate students in the U of A's computer science program.

Pourzarabi and Gorji were "super excited" for their Jan. 1 wedding in Iran, Forouzandeh said.

"If you met them even once, you could tell that these two belong together," he said. "We all knew that they were going to end up together, for sure. It was just a matter of time."

Forouzandeh said he got to know the pair well during their time together at the U of A.

"They were basically the kindest souls that I knew, honestly," he said. "And since Day 1 that I got to know them, hang out with them, it was a blast."

Amir Samani, another U of A friend of Pourzarabi and Gorji, said the couple had planned to have a small ceremony in Edmonton to celebrate their wedding.

"I was looking forward to that," he said.

Samani said he had known the couple for about two years, and they were more like family to him than just friends.

"I can't understand what's going through my mind," he said. "I even check my phone to see is [Pourzarabi] going back online again? Going to talk again?

"I don't know," he said, wiping his eyes with a tissue. "It's crazy."