'It's a sombre day': 4 Western University students killed in plane crash

Western University students are mourning the loss of four classmates who were among the 176 crash victims killed in a Ukrainian International Airlines flight. CBC News has confirmed the names of three of the four students.

'They were gifted students, they were very kind and caring,' grieving friend says

Mourners sign books of condolence at a memorial service at Western University in London, Ont., for four of the school's graduate students who were killed in the plane crash in Iran, including Milad Nahavandi. A Ukraine International Airlines flight crashed shortly after takeoff from Tehran on Jan. 8, 2020, killing all 176 people on board. (Geoff Robins/AFP via Getty Images)

They were gifted students and caring friends, their talent for their chosen academic fields just becoming clear. 

The lives of four students returning to Western University to continue their studies were cut short when their Ukrainian International Airlines flight crashed, killing all 176 people on board, leaving their classmates and colleagues in London, Ont., reeling.   

"It's hard to believe that they're not with us anymore," said graduate student Masoud Zakeri, who knew two of the students killed.

"They were gifted students, they were very kind and caring about other students and they had potential," he said.  

The victims are Ghazal Nourian, Hadis Hayatdavoudi, Milad Nahavandi, all engineering graduate students, and Sajedeh Saraiean, who was on her way to start a graduate program this semester. 

Hayatdavoudi was a Ph.D. student at Western's Electrochemistry and Corrosion Science Centre. A friend called her a cherished labmate and a "ray of sunshine."

Hadis Hayatdavoudi was a PhD student in electrochemistry at Western University. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

"You hear the news about very many people being killed or died. But once you know the person, it's very different, especially since that person went to my university, she had a bright future, she was a PhD student," said Perham Alibolandi, a student who knew Hayatdavoudi.

"Unfortunately, the plane crash took away her life."

Milad Nahavandi was a PhD student in an industrial bio product lab (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

PhD student Milad Nahavandi was another victim.

Described as a dedicated student by his friend Mohammad Mohajer, Nahavandi was studying Chemical and Biochemical Engineering.

"He was such a gifted and talented student," former classmate Erfan Pazoki said. "Other than being a genius in his subjects, he was also very supportive emotionally." 

Nahavandi called his family in Iran yesterday and said he was looking forward to returning to Canada, where he was hoping to continue his work and to fall in love and stay in Canada, a cousin said. 

Ghazal Nourian was a PhD student in nanophotonic energy materials. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

Ghazal Nourian was also a PhD student. 

According to Western University, she had joined the Nanophotonic Energy Materials lab in September and was conducting research on algorithmic fabrication of 3D nanostructures.

Soroush Sadatifar, who shared an office at Western with Nourian, said she was smart and kind. 

"I texted her two days ago and she told me she was coming back" Sadatifar said. "And I texted her back and she didn't respond." 

Sajedeh Saraiean was to start her first semester in a graduate program at Western University when she died in the plane crash. A memorial was set up at the university for the students who died. (Andrew Lupton, CBC News)

Flags lowered

Both the City of London and Western University lowered flags today in memory of the London victims and all who perished in the plane crash.

"This is a difficult time, we are deeply saddened and it's important for all of us to come together as a caring community," said Western University President Alan Shepard in a statement.  

About 30 students gathered at the school's international student centre to mourn the loss of their classmates Wednesday afternoon.

The university also set up a vigil in the evening and was providing support, including access to counsellors. 

"It's a sad day here at Western," said Keith Marnoch, the head of communications for the university. "All of us here are feeling it. It's a sombre day here at Western."