'How precious they were': Remembering the Iran plane crash victims who called Toronto home
Bright and beloved with lives filled with promise, these are victims of Flight PS752 who called the city home
They were bright, beloved and hopeful, with lives filled with promise — lives cut short when a Ukrainian airliner was suddenly shot out of the sky two years ago, leaving a hole in the hearts of their families and loved ones.
University students, professionals and parents with young children were among the 176 victims of the ill-fated Flight PS752, downed in Tehran on Jan. 8, 2020.
Sixty-three Canadians were among the dead, with many calling Toronto home.
These are their stories.
Mojtaba Abbasnezhad, a first-year international PhD student at U of T, was among those killed.
Pooya Poolad told CBC News that Abbasnezhad, his close friend and classmate, was an Iranian citizen and was living in Toronto while studying electrical engineering.
Poolad was supposed to be on the trip to Iran with his friend but had to cancel. He says he was in Toronto texting with Abbasnezhad, who also went by Soroush, at the airport before his flight home.
Maryam Agha Miri, Shahrokh Eghbali and Shahzad Eghbali
Maryam Agha Miri, her husband Shahrokh Eghbali and their daughter Shahzad Eghbali were heading home from a family wedding in Iran when they were all killed.
Shahzad was a Grade 3 student at Darlington Public School in North York, the Toronto District School Board confirmed.
Shahrokh had his master's degree in electrical engineering from Northern Illinois University and worked in software development and information technology. Maryam had a degree in accounting from a university in Iran.
Shahrokh's niece says their family and friends are devastated by the news.
"It's one thing to lose a loved one unexpectedly," Marjon Eghbali, said. "To lose multiple loved ones ... It just all feels so senseless and there's so many emotions of devastation and anger."
Marjon and her family were saddened by the plane crash whey they first heard about it, but didn't know they were directly impacted.
"It wasn't until my cousin called in the middle of the night and said, 'They're thinking it was Uncle Shahrokh's plane that came down,'" she said.
"We spent the entire night just looking over the Internet for any information." It wasn't until the passenger list was released that they had "the confirmation."
"It still doesn't seem real," Marjon said. "My family feels the same, just numb, it's a lot to process."
Mahsa Amirliravi and Mohsen Salahi
Mohsen Salahi and Mahsa Amirliravi had been teachers at Cestar College in North York for three years, the school said in a statement.
"Mohsen and Mahsa were fantastic teachers, touching countless students' lives during their time here at the college. But they were also tremendous individuals, forming strong bonds with many staff and faculty, and they will be greatly missed by fellow instructors, the academics team, and the college as a whole," the college said.
Michael Soeizi became a friend of the couple after meeting Salahi while studying at Ryerson University and playing soccer together.
"All I remember is how humble he was, how nice he was, how faithful he was," Soeizi said of Salahi.
Now he's struggling to make sense of their loss.
"God takes the better people much sooner than the others."
Mohammad Hossein Asadi Lari and Zeynab Asadi Lari
The brother and sister are being remembered as bright lights among the University of Toronto community. Those who knew them say both were always ready to help lift up the students around them and to make the world a better place. The pair were instrumental members of the STEM Fellowship, a not-for-profit organization meant to equip students with real-world skills in the sciences.
Mohammad Asadi Lari had just embarked on a lifelong dream to become a doctor. His ambition didn't surprise his friend Ahmed Hasan, who said Asadi Lari had been working on a simultaneous medical degree and doctorate.
"I feel resentful that someone who had so much that he wanted to give to the world, who had so much that he wanted to accomplish, was unfairly taken away," Hasan said. "It just breaks me to think that now he can't complete that."
Zeynab Asadi Lari stood out from the start, her first-year biology professor Fiona Rawle told CBC News. The first day of class, Zeynab immediately went and introduced herself to her professor, asking questions that distinguished her from other students.
"She was always asking why," Rawle said.
Zeynab had been especially concerned with improving mental health services for students and mentoring those who needed assistance around her. Because of the way she brought people together, those who knew her said her absence will be immediately felt by her peers.
"As a professor, one of our greatest joys is to get to watch students pursue their dreams and I have this incredible sadness that I won't get to watch Zeynab pursue her dreams," Rawle said.
Evin Arsalani, Hiva Molani and Kurdia Molani
Omid Arsalani told CBC News he found out early Wednesday morning that his 30-year-old sister, Evin Arsalani, was among those who died. She was traveling back to Ajax, Ont., with her husband, Hiva Molani, 38, and one-year-old daughter Kurdia.
Arsalani says the trio arrived in Iran on Dec. 8 for a wedding, and the last time he spoke to his sister was Jan. 2 — her 30th birthday.
"She was happy, she saw family members, all the people in the family she hasn't seen in years," Arsalani said.
When he boarded the plane, Mahmoud Attar, 69, was planning to bring some things back from Iran for his eldest daughter to decorate her new home in North York, his sister Zohreh Attar said.
Attar was retired and called Richmond Hill, Ont., home. He'd been living there since 2007.
He had two daughters.
"That's how Mahmoud was. He was always thinking about others, never himself," said his sister.
Zohreh said she had been concerned about the possibility of war in the days leading up to the plane disaster. Before takeoff, she says, she texted her brother to tell him to be careful.
"He had a passion for all people," said Zohreh. "He was active, he was happy. He loved life and he loved Canada."
Mohammed Amin Beiruti
Mohammed Amin Beiruti was a PhD student at the University of Toronto studying computer science.
A professor said Beiruiti was designing technologies for Next Generation Internet, a project aimed at improving transparency, inclusivity and privacy online.
"He was a very kind, caring and peaceful young man, and wanted to make the world a better place," said Yashar Ganjali.
"He told me he was interested in technology since he thought it can ease the lives of human beings, and he wanted to have a role in that."
Asghar Dhirani, from Markham, was a respected tour leader in Toronto's Shia Muslim community, who along with his wife Razia, had taken more than 1,000 Muslims on pilgrimages to revered sites in Iran, Iraq and Syria.
Dhirani's children, Arif and Rehana, had been awaiting their parents' arrival in Toronto Wednesday. His wife made it home safely on a different flight.
"My dad was my best friend," Rehana told CBC News in a tearful interview Wednesday.
"He was a hero, not only to me but to many people."
Hamidreza Djavadi, Kian Djavadi
Hamidreza Djavadi, known to neighbours as Sam, and his 17-year-old son Kian were on their way home to Canada after visiting Iran during the Christmas break, according to a cousin.
Before boarding, Kian had texted a friend to say he was waiting for his plane and would be in touch when he arrived. He never did.
Juan Castro, a former employer and friend of Kian's, told CBC News the pair lived with family in Mississauga, but spent summers in the London, Ont. area.
"He was just an excellent worker," Castro recalled.
"When he started working for us, his mom came by the next day and told us he has folded up his uniform T-shirt and placed it under his pillow because he was so excited."
Behnaz Khoei Ebrahimi, Rahmtin Ahmadi
Behnaz Ebrahimi had travelled to Iran with her nine-year-old son, Rahmtin Ahmadi, to visit her mother. Behnaz was a member of the Ontario Public Services Employees Union who worked as a property valuation analyst, the union said in a statement.
"She was a wonderful wife. The best mother, the best friend, kind to everyone ... she always had a smile," her husband Hadi Ahmadi said through tears. The pair met in Tehran and got married there, before moving to Toronto 16 years ago.
Ebrahimi studied at the University of Tehran where she received a degree in computer engineering. In Toronto, she became a contract property inspector, completed a degree at Seneca College and was one exam away from completing her Canadian Residential Appraiser designation.
"Her coworkers knew her as a kind-hearted person and a dedicated mother," the union said. "She will be dearly missed."
Rahmtin, his father said, loved dinosaurs and especially hugs from friends, teachers and just about anyone around him.
"Rahmtin had a short life, but I think he had the best life. He was always happy. He had whatever he wanted," Ahmadi said. "I wish I would have gone with them to Iran instead of staying behind to work."
Parisa Eghbalian and Reera Esmaeilion
Aurora, Ont.-based dentist Parisa Eghbalian and her nine-year-old daughter Reera Esmaeilion were beloved in their community and the light of Hamed Esmaeilion's life.
Eghbalian a member of the Dawson Dental Centres. She was "deeply kind, caring and wonderful person," the centre said on Facebook.
Her husband described his wife as a "wonderful woman," a perfectionist whom he learned from every day, and a role model for their daughter. "I still love her," he told CBC News.
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Eghbalian was bright, funny, smart and spoke English, French and Persian fluently. She also excelled in soccer and loved music. Her teachers said she could have been anything she wanted, family friend Bahar Esfandiari said.
"She was the best girl in the world, I think," Esmaeilion said.
Mohammad Mahdi Elyasi
Mohammad Mahdi Elyasi was a mechanical engineer who helped teach English to refugees, his friend Mohammed Yadegari said. The pair met about two years ago and became fast friends, even establishing a startup to help Canadian farmers.
"He was not just a friend to me. He was like my brother," said Yadegari. "Now I am alone in this world."
Elyasi had studied at both the University of Toronto and the University of Alberta. He had applied for permanent residency in Canada and had been waiting about one year before his life was cut short.
"He didn't have a passport, he wasn't a citizen of Canada, but he always cared about Canada ... He was looking for peace," said Yadegari.
Faezeh Falsafi, Dorsa Ghandchi and Daniel Ghandchi
Faezeh Falsafi was travelling with her two children Dorsa, 17, and Daniel, 8, at the time of the crash.
She held a master's degree in mechanical engineering, said her husband Alireza Ghandchi, who was not travelling with his family due to work.
His son, Daniel, was "very cute with a nice laugh," Ghandchi said.
His daughter, Dorsa, was just days away from turning 18, he added. She was an artist, animator and performer who loved Queen and the film Bohemian Rhapsody.
"I intend to play Queen songs at the funeral for my daughter," he told CBC News while fighting back tears.
Faraz Falsafi moved to Toronto to pursue a career after earning a master's degree in computer science at McGill University in 2014.
His friend Alborz Zamyadi remembers him as a skilled computer engineer who loved exploring forests like the Mont-Tremblant provincial park, spending hours outdoors in search of the perfect photo. The two met at a dinner party in 2015 and quickly became close.
"It was actually a gang of four of us. We were so close and doing a lot things together," he said.
His longtime friend Alireza Teimoury said Falsafi was returning from a family event in Iran when the plane went down.
Shakiba Feghahati, Rosstin Moghaddam
Shakiba Feghahati first moved to Canada with her husband, Shahin Moghaddam, seven years ago. They had been married 14 years.
On Dec. 10, she and their son, Rosstin, left for Iran to visit family — it was one day after Rosstin's birthday.
"It was her first and last flight" since moving to Toronto, Shahin said through tears.
"She was my angel ... my support, my everything in life," he said. "We built our dream house together shoulder-to- shoulder and day by day in these years we built our life, full of memories, good memories."
Their son Rosstin was "super smart," spoke four languages, loved volleyball and emojis and was always laughing.
Shahin is now left to retrieve their bodies — the only thing he says will give him any measure of peace.
"How precious they were... I'm just sorry I couldn't be with them forever."
Iman Ghaderpanah and Parinaz Ghaderpanah
Iman and Parinaz Ghaderpanah were volunteers with the non-profit Iranian-Canadian group Tirgan. They were in Iran to help raise money for an upcoming arts festival, spokesperson Mehrdad Ariannejad confirmed.
Iman was self-employed and worked in the mortgage industry, Ariannejad said.
Ariannejad worked directly with Parinaz and called her "energetic, positive, warm and very dedicated. She and her husband were deeply in love and both were very active in community affairs."
Parinaz was an employee at the Royal Bank of Canada, the bank confirms.
Friend Michael Soeizi said Parinaz was a fixture at volunteer and community-run events.
"She was very ambitious about her work," he said. "She was always energetic, she was always there to support."
Kiana Ghasemi, 19, was on her way to Toronto to study at George Brown College. She was about to begin her first semester in its computer programmer analyst program.
Ghasemi had visited Toronto in past summers, but wanted to make the move to live in the city permanently, her cousin Dorsa Ghasemi told CBC Toronto.
"She was in love with Toronto," Ghasemi said. "She was coming with lots of hopes, dreams, goals."
Mahdieh Ghassemi, Arsan Niazi and Arnica Niazi
Mahdieh Ghassemi, 38, was an award-winning architect,who designed numerous Toronto-area stores, churches and other buildings, a friend told CBC News. Ghassemi had studied architecture in Iran. After coming to Canada, she worked to re-establish her credentials, quickly rising up the ranks because of her skills.
Her children, Arsan, 11, and Arnica, 8, were also killed in the crash.
Suzan Golbabapour was a Toronto-based real estate agent and personal trainer, and "a bright light within our community," her employer Re/Max says.
"Our condolences to all that had the pleasure of knowing Suzan," Re/Max said in a statement, adding Golbabapour will be "greatly missed by her friends, family, colleagues and clients."
Saharnaz Haghjoo and Elsa Jadidi
Saharnaz Haghjoo had been an employee of YWCA Toronto since 2015 and helped newcomer women and girls get the services they needed to settle in Canada.
Her daughter Elsa Jadidi was at a campus of the Brampton-based Wali ul Asr Islamic school.
Haghjoo "was a great supporter of the school and always made it a point to express her gratitude and appreciation to Elsa's teachers," the school said in a statement.
Elsa, it said, "was a wonderful girl who was always smiling and will [God willing] continue to do so in heaven."
Sadaf Hajiaghavand was a student at York University studying human resources, who also worked as a model and host. Friends remembered her infectious laughter and always impeccable sense of style.
"She used to just laugh. The happiest person I knew in Toronto," said Khashayar Arjangi, a friend of Hajiaghavand's who also worked at a grocery store where she used to shop.
Arjangi said the two were planning to have a cooking competition before her death.
"We planned to do something for a year," he said. It's never going to happen anymore."
Sharzhad Hashemi and Maya Zibaie
Sharzhad Hashemi, 45 and her daughter Maya Zibaie, 15, were returning home to Toronto from Iran after visiting family.
Hashemi's husband and Zibaie's father Mahmoud Zibaie described his daughter as "very lovely, well educated" and the pillar of his family.
They moved to Canada in 2016 and hoped to stay in the country permanently.
Northern Secondary School identified Maya Zibaie as a Grade 10 student.
"Maya was kind, happy and well-liked by her peers. She was new to Canada, enjoyed attending high school and often shared with staff how excited she was about her future and reaching her academic goals. Maya will be sorely missed," principal Adam Marshall said in a statement.
Shadi Jamshidi, 32, and a friend had been joking about choosing the cheapest possible flight from Tehran back to Toronto. That friend, Hamid Mehr, booked a pricier flight. Jamshidi opted for a Jan. 8 seat on the Ukrainian airliner.
"I even joked about that she was a cheap person and she was looking for cheap flights, and we laughed about it. Now that's not a joke anymore," Mehr told As It Happens host Carol Off.
Jamshidi was a technical sales consultant in Mississauga, Ont. — a permanent resident working toward her Canadian citizenship. She had been in Tehran visiting her father.
"She was a lovely person all around, the sort of person you would like to be around, the sort of person that would cheer you up and who would be always there for you. It's so hard to think that such a person is gone," Mehr said.
Mohammad Amin Jebelli
Mohammad Jebelli, 29, worked as a medic in Iran and earned a doctorate in medicine from the Tehran University of Medical Sciences.
He volunteered in Iran as a family and emergency care physician and also screened children for diseases at primary schools.
Jebelli came to Toronto in 2018 to pursue a master of health science in translational research, the University of Toronto said in a statement. He was scheduled to graduate later in 2020 and intended to eventually pursue his Canadian medical license.
"This was a young man who was quiet, gentle, soft-spoken. He was bright and clever and asked good questions and was curious about the world," said Joseph Ferenbok, director of the U of T program.
"He did everything for everybody, and didn't think of himself."
His friend Mohammad Mozafarihashjin is remembering him as "kind to everyone around him."
"It's just such a shame that he's not around."
Before Bahareh Karamimoghadam boarded the flight, she spoke to her best friend, Saeideh Kirby, in New York.
Karamimoghadam, who had a master's degree in environmental engineering, had been anxious about the tensions with the U.S. and the safety of her relatives in the region.
'"I'm worried for my parents, I'm worried for my brother, I'm worried for the people of Iran,'" Karamimoghadam said, according to Kirby.
"Just come back to Canada," Kirby tried to reassure her. "Just get on the plane and come back."
On the day of the crash, Kirby learned her best friend — with whom she shared a birthday — would never be coming home.
"I don't want to believe it," she told CBC News through tears. "She was very kind... I can't believe I'm using the past tense."
Masoud Shaterpour Khiaban
Masoud Shaterpour Khiaban was in the process of moving to Canada to begin post-graduate studies in business administration at York University when the plane went down.
Students say Khiaban had already communicated with them online to learn more about the program and life in Toronto.
"He said, 'I'm so afraid; I'm coming to Toronto, I don't know anyone there…' And I told him don't worry, we are looking forward to seeing you in Toronto," said Zeinab Ganji, who began talking to Khiaban online but never met him in person.
"It's tragic beyond words, really, that he was never able to arrive here," said Lisa Philipps, provost and vice president academic at York University.
Safar Poor Koloor
Safar Poor Koloor was a first-year student studying biology at York University, the school said.
Elnaz Nabiyi earned a master's degree at Iran's prestigious Sharif University of Technology before moving to Canada with her husband to continue her studies around two years ago at the University of Alberta.
The couple most recently lived in Toronto.
Javad Solemani described her as a smart and talented woman with a big heart.
"She cared a lot about people in our home country… at the same time she was really thankful to Canada," he said.
"In just one second I lost all of my life."
Dr. Farhad Niknam was an Iranian-trained dentist who hoped to open his own dental clinic in Toronto someday. He passed a series of exams, completing his last one on Dec. 18, 2019, his friend Bahareh Vakili told CBC News.
"But life had another plan for him," the Iranian Ontario Dental Association said. "Words cannot describe how sad and heartbroken we are."
The York Catholic District School Board said Niknam was studying English as a second language at the board. It said it was deeply saddened by his death.
Amir Ovaysi, Sara Hamzeei and Asal Ovaysi
Amir Ovaysi, 42, is remembered as a proud family man who would often show his colleagues videos and photos of his six-year-old daughter, Asal, and his wife, Sara Hamzeei, 34.
The family, who lived in Newmarket, was in Iran during the holidays to visit Amir Ovaysi's aging parents.
"He was genuine. He was a super person — a brilliant mind, an astute student," said Troy Futher, who worked with Ovaysi at a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning company.
Razgar Rahimi, Farideh Gholami, Jiwan Rahimi
Razgar Rahimi, of Whitchurch-Stouffville, Ont., was a sessional lecturer at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, where he also completed a doctorate in electrical and computer engineering in 2018, said the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), of which he was a member. Rahimi was also a part-time professor at Centennial College.
"Dr. Rahimi had a reputation for excellence in the fields of applied electricity, signals and communications, and programming languages, while his warm and engaging manner endeared him to colleagues and students. Dr. Rahimi's passion for his fields of expertise was exceeded only by his love for his family," OPSEU said in a statement.
Rahimi "always had a smile," according to his friend Ahmad Shamshiri, who said his friends will always remember him that way.
He died along with his wife, Farideh Gholami, and his three-year-old so, Jiwan, the mayor of Whitchurch-Stouffville said in a statement.
"Our hearts are broken for their extended family and their friends in Stouffville and we offer our sincere condolences," the statement said.
Dr. Neda Sadighi was a successful optometrist working in Toronto, Richmond Hill, Mississauga and London, Ont.
In a Facebook post, a patient of Dr. Sadighi's said he and his family visited her just before the winter holidays to have their eye exams done. She told them she would soon be heading off on vacation, said Musleh Khan.
"She was thorough in the eye exam. We said to her as we were leaving, 'We are so happy to have found you as our eye doctor,'" to which Dr. Sadighi smiled, replying, "It was my pleasure."
The family was set to book follow-up appointments, said Khan, but God "had already decreed our last visit."
Sahand Sadeghi, Sophie Emami, Alvand Sadeghi and Negar Borghei
Sahand Sadeghi, 39, and her daughter Sophie Emami, 5, were travelling with Sadeghi's brother Alvand Sadeghi and his wife Negar Borghei.
Alvand Sadeghi worked at the digital marketing firm VFMG, his employer confirmed to CBC News. Borghei was studying in Montreal but lived in Toronto.
"It is no secret that Alvi, as we call him, is the most cherished and professional member of our VFMG family," said Patty de Frutos. "Still in shock, we would like to remember his pure soul and beautiful smile that will stay with us always."
Sahand's husband Vahid Emami told CBC News she was strong, always happy and extraordinarily kind.
"She was wonderful... You could tell her whatever bothered you and after that, you'd feel OK and happy. She took all the sadness from you, like a sponge."
Sahand Sadeghi had a master's degree in chemistry from Iran and and worked at a pharmaceutical company in Toronto. The pair had been married for 15 years, but were friends for two decades.
Emami is now without his wife and daughter, Sophie.
"Everytime I was a little down, she would say, 'Daddy, are you OK?... Be happy."
"When you've lost your wife, your daughter — whatever you have in the world in a split second, the whole world has another meaning for you."
Niloufar Sadr, a mother of three adult children, was returning to Toronto after visiting family in Iran.
She formerly managed an art gallery in Montreal called MEKIC, for Maison d'Édition Ketabe Iran Canada, but moved to Toronto around two years ago.
"She loved life a lot. She had lots of friends. She was joyful," her ex-husband Reza Banisadre said
Mohammad Saleheh and Zahra Hasani
Mohammad Saleheh was among several University of Toronto students killed in the crash. Saleheh is being remembered as an extremely bright PhD student, his friend Seyed Hossein Mortazvi said. Mortazvi knew Saleheh for 22 years, and the pair were also labmates at the university.
Mortazvi said Saleheh had been working on several research collaborations with some of the biggest names in information technology.
His wife, Zahra Hasani, was applying to a master's program in physics, Mortazvi said.
"Zahra was caring, devoted to her friends and family," he said.
The two made a great couple, said Mortazvi.
They died together in the crash.
Sheida Shadkhoo had been in Iran visiting her mother and was headed back to Toronto when the plane went down.
Her husband, Hassan Shadkoo, told CBC News that Sheida had spoken to him just 20 minutes before the plane took off. The pair had been married for 10 years.
"She was an angel," Shadkhoo said. "I lived for her."
Shadkhoo spoke to CBC News from Toronto's Pearson International Airport Wednesday night. Instead of his wife returning to him, he was headed to Tehran to retrieve her remains and be with her family.
"I wish I didn't exist now," he said.
Alina Tarbhai and Afifa Tarbhai
Alina Tarbhai was an administrative clerk at the Toronto office of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation. The union confirmed she had been in Iran to attend a funeral with her mother, Afifa Tarbhai, who was also killed.
Alina's uncle told CBC News that his niece "was always driven to better the community" and "striving to inspire the next generation." He added that she was passionate about the environment and was a leader with the 392nd Muslim Scouts.
"I can see where Alina got it from because her mother Afifa was very family-driven," said Mohamedraza Tarbhai. Afifa, he said, was actively involved in helping at food banks.
"Both were very devoted to their Islamic faith," he said.
Darya Toghian was an architectural technology student at George Brown College.
George Brown's school of English as a Second Language said in a Facebook post that Toghian also studied there in 2018.
"Her enthusiasm and willingness to help others made her a great partner to work alongside, and we feel very fortunate to have had the chance to meet and work with her," the post reads.
Arad Zarei, 18, was a student at Richmond Green Secondary School in Richmond Hill. He was in Iran to visit his mother.
"He was the apple of my eye and his energetic demeanour and caring personality left a lasting impression on his classmates and many friends," his father Mehrzad Zarei said in a statement.
"His loss will undoubtedly leave a gaping hole in the lives of the many he touched."
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With files from Kirthana Sasistharan, Derick Deonarain, CBC News, The Canadian Press