People gather on Jan. 10, 2020, at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg for a vigil organized by the University of Manitoba Iranian Students Association (UMISA) for the Winnipeg victims killed in a plane crash in Iran. Victims from left to right are: Forough Khadem, Bahareh Hajesfandiari (41) Anisa Sadeghi (10) and Mohammad Sadeghi, Amir Hossein Ghorbani (21), Farzaneh Naderi (38) and Noojan Sadr (11), Amirhossien Ghasemi (32), Farhad Niknam (44), and Mojgan Daneshmand, Pedram Mousavi, Daria Mousavi (14) and Dorina Mousavi (9). THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

People gather on Jan. 10, 2020, at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg for a vigil organized by the University of Manitoba Iranian Students Association (UMISA) for the Winnipeg victims killed in a plane crash in Iran. Victims from left to right are: Forough Khadem, Bahareh Hajesfandiari (41) Anisa Sadeghi (10) and Mohammad Sadeghi, Amir Hossein Ghorbani (21), Farzaneh Naderi (38) and Noojan Sadr (11), Amirhossien Ghasemi (32), Farhad Niknam (44), and Mojgan Daneshmand, Pedram Mousavi, Daria Mousavi (14) and Dorina Mousavi (9). THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

‘Out of this mess:’ A look at some of the lives lost in the downing of Flight PS752

There were at least 55 Canadians on board and more than 100 passengers had ties to Canada

Pedram Mousavi sat with the other passengers on Ukrainian International Airlines Flight PS752 as it remained parked on the tarmac south of Iran’s capital, Tehran, about an hour behind schedule in the pre-dawn darkness.

It was Jan. 8, 2020.

Amid escalating tensions between the United States and Iran, Mousavi texted a friend: “I just want to get out of this mess.”

Mousavi, a University of Alberta engineering professor, his wife Mojgan Daneshmand, also an engineering prof, and their daughters Daria, 14, and Dorina, 9, were among 167 passengers and nine crew members on the flight.

Shortly before takeoff, Sheyda Shadkhoo of Markham, Ont., phoned her husband to say she was nervous about flying. Everything will be fine, a tearful Hassan Shadkhoo later recalled reassuring his wife of 10 years.

There were at least 55 Canadians on board and more than 100 passengers had ties to Canada – students, business people, academics, newlyweds and families — from British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba.

The Boeing 737-800 was to fly over Turkey, then the Black Sea and into Kyiv, with many catching a connecting flight for the long haul to Canada.

It was supposed to leave at 5:15 a.m., but it was past 6 a.m. and the jet was still on the ground at Imam Khomeini International Airport, waiting to roar down Runway 29R. Back home in Canada, it was the evening of Jan 7. In Toronto, it was 9:30 p.m.

It was a scheduled flight in a very unsettled time.

The plane had arrived just after midnight and was prepping for the return leg at about 2 a.m. when Iran fired missiles at U.S. coalition bases in Iraq. The launch was in retaliation for an earlier drone strike that killed senior Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani.

READ MORE: UBC grad and sister killed in Iran plane crash had bright futures ahead, close friend says

Military forces were on alert but Iran did not close its airspace to civilian traffic.

Amid the usual click and clack of overhead bins, the passengers settled in. They had stories to share and memories to savour, as revealed in dozens of subsequent interviews The Canadian Press conducted with family and friends.

Arash Pourzarabi and Pouneh Gorji, married just days earlier in Iran, were returning to studies at the University of Alberta. Fareed Arasteh, a PhD student at Ottawa’s Carleton University, had also tied the knot just three days prior in Iran with fiancée Maral.

There was “Hami and Sami” – Hamidreza Setareh and Samira Bashiri — who fell in love as teens a decade earlier in Iran and had built a life together in Windsor, Ont., learning English by watching the TV sitcom “Friends.”

Many came for rituals both joyous and sombre. Pedram Jadidi had left the University of Windsor to pay respects on the first anniversary of his father’s death in Iran. Fereshteh Maleki travelled from Ottawa for her daughter’s wedding.

Montrealer Shahab Raana booked a trip back to Iran to surprise family members and posted a selfie online just before takeoff. Kasra Saati came from Calgary to be with his wife, Mehsam, and their two kids. Mehsam was in Iran to get family help with their newborn daughter.

ALSO READ: Bodies brought back to Canada following Iran plane crash

The passengers had worries big and small. Nasim Rahmanifar was preparing for her first winter in Edmonton as a master’s student in mechanical engineering. She was constantly asking friends about the best jacket for the bone-chilling cold.

Some were there on a twist of fate. Vancouver college student Delaram Dadashnejad had booked a round trip on Lufthansa but had to cancel it due to visa delays, and rebooked on Flight 752. Roja Azadian was coming to Canada for the first time, flying with her husband until a ticket mix-up forced her to fly to Ottawa alone. He planned to be on the next flight.

There was a lot of brainpower in that cabin: dozens of students, many pursuing master’s and PhDs. Amir Moradi was in his third year at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., and had written his medical school entrance exams the summer before. He was in Iran with his parents to visit family. Before he got on the plane, he texted a buddy: “See u soon.”

Masoumeh Ghavi, 30, was heading to Halifax to resume studies in computer technology at Dalhousie University. Her younger sister, 20-year-old Mahdieh, was with her; she was expected to start medical school later in the year.

Many passengers were headed back to work, in banking, dentistry, gynecology optometry, chemistry, engineering, technology and web development.

Razgar Rahimi was a member of the engineering faculty at Toronto’s Centennial College. He was flying with wife Farideh Gholami, who was seven month’s pregnant, and their three-year-old son, Jiwan. Gholami was a talented artist and had made an avocado costume for their boy the previous Halloween.

There were so many children on 752. Sophie Emami was five. Asal Ovaysi was six. Shahzad Eghbali Bazoft and Daniel Ghandchi were both eight.

Daniel’s 16-year-old sister, Dorsa, one of many teens, was with him.

Kamyar Ebnoddin Hamidi of Coquitlam, B.C., 15, loved making music and someday wanted to be a producer.

Fatemah Pasavand, 17, was returning home to North Vancouver. She had asked for a special meal when she got back and her dad, who runs a bakery, was getting it ready. Arshia Arbabbahrami was a Grade 12 student in Calgary, aiming to be a doctor, excelling in sports — track and field, swimming and diving.

They were all cinched into their seats and ready to go.

The plane’s doors closed at 5:49 a.m. and at 6:11 a.m. pilot Volodymyr Gaponenko had the bird rolling down the runway.

In three minutes, the plane was at 2,500 metres and climbing when, said Iran, a communication and technical foul-up caused the Revolutionary Guard to mistake the airliner for a hostile target. Grainy video shows two ground-to-air missiles fired 23 seconds apart, streaks of light in the dark sky.

The result, recounted later in the parlance of vectors, co-ordinates, altitudes, and time codes, remains a year later — raw, terrifying and heartbreaking.

There was a flash.

The stricken jet veered right and turned in, its flight path resembling an inverted question mark, streaking to Earth, slamming into a playground, bouncing, exploding and showering debris over the length of three football fields. There were no survivors.

The aftermath has been punctuated by finger-pointing, evasions, diplomatic bluster and a search for answers between Canada and Iran, two countries that don’t have diplomatic relations.

For surviving friends and families, there remains anger and profound sadness.

But also cherished memories of loved ones such as Noojan Sadr, who was travelling home to Winnipeg with his mom, Farzaneh Naderi.

Noojan was 11. He liked soccer and playing video games.

Like the other passengers, the G-force would push him back into his seat as the jet lumbered down the runway, faster, faster, the morning sun chasing its tail, the tarmac below slipping into a blur.

The engines howled, the wheels lifted and the 176 souls of Flight PS752 began their ascent.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Flight 752 crash in Iran

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

As of Friday, Alberta has under 10,000 active COVID-19 cases. (Image courtesy CDC)
Alberta reports 2,271 new COVID-19 cases, Red Deer cases rise slightly

Across Alberta, there are 666 people in hospital with COVID-19, including 146 in the ICU

Alberta Health Services locked the Whistle Stop Cafe at Mirror on Wednesday morning after owner Christopher Scott refused to comply with health orders.
Photo by Paul Cowley/Advocate staff
AHS shuts down Whistle Stop Cafe for defying health orders

Health inspectors and RCMP locked doors early Wednesday

Premier Jason Kenney (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Chedda’ Heads Grilled Cheese Truck owner Dawson Strome and truck manager Allison Dolan look out from the service window on the truck. (File Photo)
Sylvan Lake’s Food Truck Thursdays expected to return with some changes

The Town is amending the Mobile Vending and Busking Bylaw which has a few changes for the event

A vial of Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is seen at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. An Alberta woman in her 50s has died from a rare blood clot disorder after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
Alberta confirms blood clot disorder death linked to AstraZeneca vaccine

Both AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have been linked to VITT in a very small number of cases

FILE - In this March 3, 2021, file photo, a vial of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is displayed at South Shore University Hospital in Bay Shore, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine can be given to adults 30+ who can’t wait for mRNA: NACI

Panel says single shot vaccine can be especially useful for populations unable to return for second shot

A wild rabbit grazes in Nanaimo, B.C. in this Feb.2, 2018 photo. Rabbit owners in Alberta are being warned about a deadly virus that was identified in a southern Alberta household last month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dirk Meissner
‘Like a flash fire:’ Rabbit owners warned about outbreak of deadly disease in Alberta

The disease is confined to rabbits and cannot spread to humans

A lady wears a vaccinated sticker after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canada may find it challenging to reach herd immunity from COVID-19, experts say

Level of immunity among the population changes with the variants, especially the more transmissible strains

B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Dip in COVID-19 cases with 572 newly announced in B.C.

No new deaths have been reported but hospitalized patients are up to 481, with 161 being treated in intensive care

A dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination is prepared at a mobile clinic for members of First Nations and their partners, in Montreal, Friday, April 30, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine approved for kids 12 to 15 years old in Canada

The vaccine was previously authorized for anyone at least 16 years of age or older

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to speakers appearing by video during a news conference in Ottawa on Tuesday May 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada will align policy on ‘vaccine passports’ with international allies: Trudeau

Trudeau says Canadians could begin travelling outside the country again by summer

Ranging from 11 to 20 in age and representing seven provinces and one territory, the plaintiffs are appealing a Supreme Court judge’s decision to dismiss their lawsuit last fall. (David Suzuki Foundation)
15 youths not backing down in their fight to sue Ottawa over climate change inaction

The group has filed an appeal after their lawsuit was struck down by a Federal Court judge last fall

A 2021 census questionnaire. (Black Press Media file photo)
2021 census responses due May 11

By law, every household must complete a census questionnaire

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi attends a senior’s home in Calgary on Tuesday, April 14, 2020, amid a worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Nenshi says he’s frustrated to hear that tickets given to people for breaching COVID-19 public health orders are being thrown out in the courts.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘Incredibly frustrating:’ Calgary mayor wants courts to uphold COVID-19 measures

Large groups without masks have been gathering in Calgary public spaces in protest of health measures

Most Read