The crash of a Boeing 737 airliner shortly after takeoff from the Iranian capital hit home in the Pacific Northwest Wednesday. The crash victims include immigrant families just across the U.S. border in British Columbia.
The crash of the Ukraine International Airlines flight bound for Kyiv killed everyone aboard. The cause of the disaster on the outskirts of Tehran is still unknown, but in the meantime we are learning more about the victims.
The passenger manifest listed at least 12 British Columbia residents. They include students at the University of British Columbia and Vancouver's Langara College, several doctors, an engineer, a dental hygienist and an entire Iranian-Canadian family from suburban Vancouver.
"The loss of one of our students is one that impacts our entire community," said Dr. Lane Trotter, president of Langara College, in a statement Wednesday mourning 26-year-old Delaram Dadashnejad. "We are heartbroken over the fatal tragedy that took place."
"Canadian society and Iranian community lost one of the best families," said Kei Esmaeilpour, the president of the Civic Association of Iranian Canadians in Vancouver in a Facebook tribute to his friends, the husband and wife, Ardalan Ebnoddin-Hamidi and Niloofar Razzaghi, and their teenage son Kamyar.
"All had so much potential, so much life ahead of them," Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said addressing mourners from Ottawa Wednesday. "Your loss is indescribable. This is a heartbreaking tragedy."
Also on the list of dead were mother Ayeshe Pourghaderi and her 17-year-old daughter Fatemeh Pasavand, whose family operates a bakery in North Vancouver.
According to social media posts from Canadian travelers, Ukraine International Airlines offered an affordable connection to visit relatives back in Iran using a Tehran-Kyiv-Toronto routing.
The crashed Boeing airliner was a 737-800 model delivered new to the Ukrainian airline in 2016. It's not from the 737 Max series that has been in the news a lot lately.
Canada, like the U.S., does not have diplomatic relations with Tehran, which makes it unclear how much participation Transport Canada and Boeing might be allowed in the crash investigation. The investigation is further complicated because shortly before the plane crash Iran launched a missile attack on two Iraqi military bases used by U.S. and Canadian forces.
"We are ready to assist in any way needed," said Boeing in a brief statement posted to its website that also extended condolences.
Flight PS752 took off before sunrise Wednesday morning, local time, from Tehran International Airport bound for the Ukrainian capital with 167 passengers and nine crewmembers on board. Trudeau said at least 63 of the passengers were Canadians and a total of 138 of those on board the Tehran to Kyiv flight were connecting to Canada.
Tracking data from the website Flightradar24 shows the aircraft making a smooth ascent for a few minutes after liftoff to an altitude of about 8,000 feet before the signal disappears. The pilots are not known to have made a distress call.
In a statement from Kyiv Wednesday, Ukraine International Airlines vice president for operations Ihor Sosnovsky seemed to rule out pilot error as a possible cause of the crash.
"Given the crew's experience, error probability is minimal," Sosnovsky said. "We do not even consider such a chance."
Iranian news reports said that officials had found the plane's black boxes, which would be analyzed by the Iran Civil Aviation Organization. The Iranian government dismissed rumors the plane may have been brought down by a missile.
Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau said Canada has offered technical assistance to the investigation in Iran. He declined to rule out any possible causes during a briefing for reporters in Ottawa Wednesday. Whatever went awry in the sky happened suddenly, he said. Pictures of the wreckage on the ground showed the plane disintegrated into many small pieces.
"Something very unusual happened, but we cannot speculate at this point. There are a number of possibilities," Garneau said. "We will have to wait to obtain more information, perhaps from the black boxes or from other intelligence."
"Canadians have questions," Trudeau said in the same briefing. "They deserve answers."