The Current

A month after Iranian plane crash, Canadian families still want answers from Tehran

One month after the Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 crash in Iran, The Current spoke to two family members of victims about the questions they still want answered.

Iranian authorities still haven't released black box analysis

Parisa Eghbalian, left, Reera Esmaeilion, centre, and Hamed Esmaeilion. Eghbalian and daughter Reera were both killed in the crash. (Madeline McNair/CBC)

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One month after the Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 crash in Iran that killed 176 people including 57 Canadians, families of the victims are still desperate for answers.

"When [Iranian government officials] don't give the black box, when they don't co-operate with the airline or Canada or Ukraine … there is no healing for us," Hamed Esmaeilion told The Current's host Matt Galloway. He lost his wife and nine-year-old daughter in the Jan. 8 crash. 

At Canada's request, the United Nations agency for civilian aviation sent a letter to the Iranian government on Tuesday, requesting that Iranian investigators either immediately analyze the flight's black boxes or hand them over to another country to investigate.

"We would like the black boxes to be analyzed as soon as possible," Transport Minister Marc Garneau told reporters Tuesday. "It's been almost four weeks."

Rescue teams work amidst debris after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in Tehran early Jan. 8, killing everyone on board. (AFP via Getty Images)

Esmaeilion of Richmond Hill, Ont., said the investigation delays leave him with little confidence that he will get answers soon.

The delays, he said, should be a message for Canadians "that the Iranian regime is not going to co-operate."

Since the crash, many questions have been raised about Tehran's transparency in relaying the facts of the crash.

Iranian authorities initially blamed a technical failure, before finally admitting three days later that the military "mistakenly" shot down the plane. A leaked audio recording released earlier this week also appeared to show that Iran knew immediately that a missile had hit Flight 752.

Rehana Dirhani lost her father in the crash. (CBC/Samira Mohyeddin)

For Esmaeilion, the lack of transparency from the Iranian government compounds the pain of losing his wife Parisa Eghbalian and daughter Reera.

"We suffer from loss, yes, that's part of it. But we suffer more from the rage and from anger," he said.

"We have no response for what happened. We still are confused."

Rehana Dhirani, whose father died in the crash, said she didn't know if her family would ever have closure about what happened.

"I just want the truth," she said.

"But will the truth really help me or my family in their emotional struggle, right now? I don't know." 

The long process of mourning 

Esmaeilion said because he was in Iran for the two weeks following the crash trying to get the bodies of his wife and daughter back to Canada, his mourning process has really just begun.

"I didn't mourn in Iran. But now I'm back to an empty house," he said.

He said that now "every night, every morning," he's faced with the memories of his wife and daugher.

"Every school time, like the school bus [is] coming every morning at 7:30, but she's not there," he said.

Dhirani said she was haunted by similar reminders. Something as simple as someone wearing an Apple Watch would remind her of her father and his quest to get 10,000 steps a day on his watch. 

"I haven't turned on my Apple Watch. It's just sitting on the bedside because I can't do it," she said.

Rehana Dhirani and her father, Ali Asgar Dhirani. (Submitted by Rehana Dhirani)

"The fact that I can't talk to him … it's just devastating for me," she said.

Dhirani's father, a Tanzanian Canadian who, along with his wife, led tours to Muslim religious sites, was in Iran to do a tour. His wife was there with him, but left on an earlier flight with another airline.

Dhirani said the most heartbreaking part of the whole experience was when her mother, who had no idea about the crash during her flight, landed in Toronto and turned on her phone with messages of condolences from friends.

Her mother then learned about 752's fate from a customs officer, she said. 

As she watched her mother exit customs, Dhirani said, "I could see the doors opening and closing and the pain on my mother's face — the look of defeat from one of the strongest women I know." 

Even a month later, Dhirani said, "I feel so, so weak and so useless throughout this whole entire thing."

Man making painful trip to ID wife, daughter after Iran crash

4 years ago
Duration 1:36
Hamed Esmaeilion lost his daughter Reera and wife, Parisa Eghbalian, on Ukranian Flight 752. Now the Richmond Hill, Ont., dentist is preparing to make the painful trip to Iran to identify their bodies.

In his eulogy for Parisa and Reera, Esmaeilion called many times for justice, and when asked what that meant, he told The Current, "This is not a human error. It's a systemic failure."

"There should be an investigation."

Written by Allie Jaynes. Produced by Samira Mohyeddin.