At least 63 Canadians were among the 176 people killed when a Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 crashed after taking off from Teheran’s main airport. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Newlyweds, professors, students among Edmonton victims of plane crash in Iran

EDMONTON — Amir Samani never got a chance to personally congratulate his two friends on their wedding in Iran and he can’t believe that he never will.

Arash Pourzarabi and Pouneh Gorji were among at least 63 Canadians who were killed when a Ukrainian passenger jet crashed shortly after takeoff from Tehran on Wednesday.

Early reports suggested up to 30 of the Canadian victims were from Edmonton, stunning the small Iranian-Canadian community in Alberta’s capital.

“I’m a big denier right now. I can’t understand what’s going through my mind,” a tearful Samani said Wednesday at the Iranian Heritage Society.

“I even check my phone to see is (Arash) going back online again? Will I talk to him?

“It’s crazy.”

Pourzarabi and Gorji were computer science students at the University of Alberta. They had gone home to Iran over the Christmas holidays to get married in front of friends and family.

Some of those wedding guests were also on the flight when it crashed and killed all 176 people aboard.

Amir Forouzandeh, who helped Pourzarabi pick out his wedding suit, said the couple was very much in love and got married on New Year’s Day.

“They were super excited for that day. If you met them even once, you could tell that these two belonged together,” he said. “We all knew they were going to end up together. It was just a matter of time.”

He said they were “two of the kindest souls I knew.”

The crash took the lives of several students and instructors at the university, including mechanical engineering professor Pedram Mousavi, his wife Mojgan Daneshmand, an electrical engineering professor, and their two young daughters, Darina and Darya.

Hossein Saghlatoon, a post-graduate student who worked with Mousavi for six years, said he spent late Tuesday frantically calling around after he saw news of the crash, hoping his mentor Mousavi and the professor’s family were not on the plane.

“I couldn’t accept it,” he said. “I had to take some pills to go to sleep with the hope I would wake up and this was a nightmare.”

Saghlatoon said he and other students had formed a close bond with the family.

“They were the happiest people you could ever see. I still have his laughing voice in my head,” he said.

“He was always making jokes. He was always trying to push you to get to your best in the best way possible, both of them.

“We’re all crying in the lab. We’re like people who lost our parents.”

Maryam Hejazi, soccer coach to nine-year-old Darina, recalled a child with an agile, relentless mind who questioned everything: What’s this soccer drill? Why are we doing it? Why are we doing this drill and not that drill?

“I said, ‘I can’t answer all of your questions. You’re too smart,’” said Hejazi.

She said she saw the children’s mother out shopping before they left for Iran. Daneshmand told her Darina was coming back for another season of soccer.

“I was expecting this Sunday she was going to be back to the team. It’s so sad.”

Reza Akbari, president of the Iranian Heritage Society, said the group will decide in the coming days how to honour the memory of those who died. The enormity is still sinking in, he said.

“It’s a shocking, massive tragedy,” he said, recalling his reaction as the names of people he knew continued to grow and grow overnight.

“(You tell yourself) this is a nightmare. It’s not happening and it’s not true.”

As night fell, about 70 people gathered near the front steps of the legislature in the bitter cold to light candles, shed tears and remember the victims.

Ali Kamalipour, a university student, said two of his friends were on the flight.

“(I came) just to show support for the lives that were lost,” said Kamalipour. “It’s a little tough to wrap our heads around it, what’s going on, but we’re all just trying to be there for each other.”

Yeganeh Khaniani said she works at the university and knew some of the victims.

“It was a tragedy. Last night I couldn’t sleep at all,” she said, adding she hopes their final moments, while terrifying, gave them a chance for a final connection.

“The airplane coming toward the ground and people on board realize that it’s the end. I imagine them catching each others hands and looking into each other’s eyes with love to stay with each other forever,” said Khaniani.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 8, 2020

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