Nova Scotia

Halifax dentist, university students among victims of Iran plane crash

A Halifax dentist and graduate students from Dalhousie University and Saint Mary's University are among those killed when a Ukraine International Airlines plane crashed near Tehran Wednesday morning.

Dr. Sharieh Faghihi, Masoumeh Ghavi, Maryam Malek, Fatemeh Mahmoodi and Mandieh Ghavi were en route to Halifax

Masoumeh Ghavi was working on her master's degree in engineering at Dalhousie University and working part time at an IT company in Bedford, N.S. (Instagram)

A Halifax dentist and graduate students from Dalhousie University and Saint Mary's University were among those killed when a Ukraine International Airlines plane crashed near Tehran Wednesday morning.

Student Masoumeh Ghavi, 30, who many knew as Masi, had been on holiday visiting family in Iran. She was travelling back to Canada with her younger sister, Mandieh Ghavi, 20, who was to study in Halifax, said Ali Nafarieh, president of the Iranian Cultural Association of Nova Scotia.

"It's unbelievable, still I cannot believe it," he said. "When I put myself in her family's shoes, oh my God."

Fatemeh Mahmoodi was a graduate student at Saint Mary's University's Sobeys School of Business. (Fatemeh Mahmoodi/LinkedIn)

Saint Mary's University confirmed in a statement that Maryam Malek and Fatemeh Mahmoodi, listed as passengers, were both enrolled in the school's master of finance program.

"This is an evolving situation and the university continues to work with the relevant authorities for more information," the university stated, adding there is counselling available to people in the university community.

Dr. Sharieh Faghihi, a dentist who has worked in Halifax for several years, was also on the plane. She'd been visiting her mother in Iran with her daughter, who returned to Halifax a few days ago.

Faghihi's daughter's boyfriend, Reza Rahimi, heard a plane went down around midnight and a few hours later saw Faghihi's name on a passenger list. So far, no Iranian officials have been in touch with the family. 

"She was a great woman," Rahimi said, speaking outside Faghihi's downtown Halifax home. "She was always my mom in Canada. From the first days I came here, she backed me up. She helped me a lot. I'm still in shock. I can't believe we lost her."

Rahimi said she moved to Canada in 2011 so her own children could have a better life. She helped set up a dental centre for disabled children in Iran, according to a 2015 Dalhousie alumni newsletter, and loved being a dentist.

"The amount of caregiving she gave to her patients, it was amazing," he said. "I keep thinking someone will wake me up and say it was just a dream ... A nightmare." 

Dr. Sharieh Faghihi worked as a dentist in Halifax for several years. (Alumni Anchor/Dal.ca)

Fellow dentist Dr. Ebrahim Kiani met Faghihi about 25 years ago in Iran, where she was his instructor at a university in Shiraz. Later they both took part in Dalhousie's qualifying program for foreign-trained dentists and became part-time instructors at the university. 

He remembered his friend as a kind and supportive colleague who was generous with her knowledge.

"It feels like I lost part of my family, actually," he said. "We lost a good human, an experienced dentist and a very lovely person."

On Wednesday night, he visited with Faghihi's husband and two children, both of whom are in the process of finishing medical school.

"They don't have immediate family members here. I think any support from any friend, from any community member, any Canadian — that would help," he said.

Nafarieh said including students, there are about 2,000 people in the Iranian community in Halifax, some of whom have been here for 45 years.

There are plans to hold a memorial in Halifax this weekend to mourn all victims of the crash, Nafarieh said, but details have not been finalized.

Masoumeh and Mandieh Ghavi were travelling to Halifax together after a holiday in Iran. (Instagram)

He hired Masi Ghavi, who started her master's degree in engineering in September, to work part-time at his Bedford, N.S.-based technology company, Hanatech. Ghavi moved to Halifax last summer and the rest of her family lived in Iran. 

"She was very young, energetic. Very bright, smart. Because we knew her from Iran — she had a background in IT, a very strong background in IT — we invited her to our company to work with us," he said.

"She brought a lot of energy to the environment in our company, it's devastating ... We are all going to miss her." 

The Ukraine International Airlines flight carrying 167 passengers and nine crew en route to Kyiv crashed minutes after takeoff from Tehran's main airport.

Everyone on Flight PS752 — an American-made Boeing 737-800 — was killed, including 63 Canadians. Passengers with Canadian ties hailed from British Columbia, Quebec, Manitoba, Ontario and Alberta; at least 30 of them are believed to be from Edmonton, while a large number had ties to universities across the country. Prime 

The flight to Kyiv was a popular transit route for Canadians travelling to Iran, as it was one of the more affordable connecting flights. There have been no direct flights since Canada broke off diplomatic relations with Iran in 2012.

Debris is seen from an Ukrainian plane on the outskirts of Tehran. The airplane carrying 176 people crashed on Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Tehran's main airport, killing all onboard. (Ebrahim Noroozi/The Associated Press)

It is still unclear how many of the passengers lived in Nova Scotia.

Dalhousie also issued a statement listing support services available for students and the university's employees.

"My heart breaks for the people whose lives have been cut short, for the families that are now broken, and for all of us doing our best in a world that sometimes feels capricious and unsafe," said Teri Balser, Dalhousie University's provost and vice-president academic in a memo distributed to staff and students.

Blaser offered condolences and said Dalhousie would offer more information if its able to respect "the privacy and wishes of the families."

Atousa Costandi, who is also part of the Iranian Cultural Association of Nova Scotia, said members of the Iranian community are reeling as they try to find more about who was on the plane.

"They're extremely upset. They're trying to reach out, trying to find out who they were," she said. "We're trying our best to get in touch with everyone.

"Our heartfelt thoughts are with the loved ones of the victims, including many Iranian-Canadians."

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With files from Jack Julian and Preston Mulligan