Iranian plane crash victims include 2 Canadians

A Toronto woman and her three-year-old son were among the 168 people killed in a plane crash in northern Iran on Wednesday.
Iranian workers examine the site of the Caspian Airlines Flight 7908 crash crashed just outside the village of Jannatabad, around 120 kilometres northwest of Tehran on Wednesday. ((Vahid Salemi/Associated Press))

A Toronto woman and her three-year-old son were among the 168 people killed in a plane crash in northern Iran on Wednesday.

Vahik Khachik confirmed to CBC News from Tehran that his wife, Nana Antasyam, and their son, Edward Khachik, were on the flight. They were headed to Armenia to visit relatives at the time of the crash.

Nana Antasyam and her son, Edward Khachik, are among the 168 victims of a plane crash in northern Iran.

"I'm quite sure they were [on the plane] because my brother and I — we drove them to the airport. We waited until the last minute and then drove away from the airport," he said.

"My wife was beautiful. She was a nice woman," he said, as he broke down with emotion.

Vahik Khachik had said he attempted to reach Canadian consular officials to get information about his family.

"I went there in person and they said it was closed," he said.

He said he eventually got in contact with embassy officials who said that, so far, there was nothing they could do for him.

Canadian Foreign Affairs spokesman Daniel Barbarie said the department has been informed that two Canadian citizens died in the crash.

He said consular officials in Tehran are in contact with the family and consular assistance is being provided.

Meanwhile, authorities recovered two heavily damaged black boxes belonging to the airplane.

A search is ongoing for a third black box, state-run Press TV quoted lead investigator Ahmad Majidi as saying.

The two recorders could shed light on what happened in the final minutes of the flight. The cause of the crash is still unknown.

Despite the damage incurred by the black boxes, experts are nonetheless trying to extract information from them, Majidi said.

"If efforts to retrieve data from the boxes fail, they will be sent back to the country that has produced them so that they could be repaired in order to find the reason behind the crash," he said, without elaborating. The Press TV report gave no further details.

Crashed shortly after takeoff

Caspian Airlines flight 7908 crashed outside a village near the town Qazvin around 16 minutes after taking off from Tehran at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday. It was bound for the Armenian capital of Yerevan.

Witnesses reported seeing the plane's tail on fire in the air as it circled to find a place to land.

The Tupolev jet's impact plowed a deep, long trench into agricultural fields outside the village of Jannat Abad, and the aircraft was blasted to bits. Flaming wreckage, body parts and personal items were strewn over a 200-metre area.

Most of the passengers aboard the airplane were Iranians, although seven were from Armenia and Georgia, Press TV reported.

Armenia on Thursday announced a one-day national state of mourning to mark the death of its citizens in the crash, according to the Russian news agency ITAR-Tass.

Aging aircraft

The airplane was 22-year-old TU-154M. Russia produced 900 TU-154s until production was halted in 1996.

Iran has suffered a number of high-profile aircraft crashes in recent years. Many civilian and military aircraft currently in use are either ancient U.S. jets or Soviet-era relics.

Iran has placed some of the blame for its poor aviation safety record on sanctions imposed by the United States, claiming they have hampered efforts to perform maintenance and obtain spare parts.

The crash is Iran's worst since February 2003, when a Russian-made Ilyushin 76 carrying members of the elite Revolutionary Guards crashed in the mountains of southeastern Iran, killing 302 people aboard. That crash was a sign of how maintenance problems have also affected Iran's military.

With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press