63 Canadians killed in Boeing plane crash leaving Iran
Parisa Eghbalian was eager to attend her sister’s engagement party in Iran, so about two weeks ago she flew back from Toronto with her nine-year-old daughter to celebrate. Her husband stayed behind, spending last night getting their home ready for a return that didn’t happen.
“I did everything. I cleaned the house, I just had to finish vacuuming and display some flowers and go to the airport,” Hamed Esmaeilion, a dentist and writer, said Wednesday in a phone interview. “And then I got the terrible news.”
Eghbalian, 42, and their daughter, Reera, were among the 63 Canadians who died in the crash of a Ukraine International Airlines jet early Wednesday morning shortly after takeoff from Tehran. In all, 167 passengers and nine crew lost their lives, including 82 Iranians and 11 Ukrainians, according to Ukraine’s foreign ministry. At least 25 victims were children.
“She was my love for 20 years,” said Esmaeilion. “She was a wonderful woman and she was very, very intelligent, and on top of things.”
It’s a tragic turn for an Iranian family who came to Canada nine years ago and settled north of Toronto. Canada has one of the largest Iranian diasporas in the world, with 210,405 people identifying as at least part Iranian in the country’s 2016 census. While the largest concentration is in the Toronto area, often referred to as “Tehranto” by the Persian community -- the Iran presence stretches across the country.
Other Canadian victims included 27 people from Edmonton, Alberta, according to a tweet from Payman Parseyan, the former president of the Iranian Heritage Society of Edmonton. Another victim was a PhD student at the University of Guelph in Ontario, according to the CBC. Four others were students at Western University in London, Ontario, while another was studying at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The University of Toronto said several students were among those killed in the crash.
“Many members of our university –- and many across the GTA and Canada -– have been directly affected by this tragedy,” University of Toronto President Meric Gertler said in a statement. “We are all heartbroken.”
Eghbalian, also a dentist, and Esmaeilion met in school in 1995 in a small city in northwest Iran. After arriving in Canada, they spent a couple years updating their qualifications, and were able to find work in their chosen professions.
The family usually made trips back to Iran every year, but Esmaeilion opted to stay behind on this visit. They started making travel arrangements about four months ago, well before the current tensions in Iran with the U.S. flared up, but had difficulty buying airline tickets because of sanctions against Iran. They ended up arranging flights through Ukraine International Airlines, one of the few carriers serving the country.
The engagement party for Eghbalian’s sister went ahead last week -- the same night U.S. President Donald Trump ordered an airstrike against a senior Iranian general. Despite rising tensions in the region, his wife and daughter were having a great visit. Reera was particularly enthused.
“She was very happy,” he said. “She loved her country and so she wanted to go back.”
Reera, whose name means “a smart woman” and is the name of a goddess in a northern Iran forest, was a French immersion student at a public school in Richmond Hill, Ontario. She played piano and spoke three languages -- English, French and Farsi.
“This morning I had to call her school,” Esmaeilion said. “It was the most weird call ever because I had to let them know that the absence would be forever.”
--With assistance from Sandra Mergulhao.