TORONTO—Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowed his government will get answers after a Ukrainian passenger jet crashed, killing at least 63 Canadians, just minutes after taking off from Iran’s capital.
The flight included many international students and a family of four. Trudeau said Wednesday his foreign minister is in touch with the government of Ukraine and his transport minister is reaching out to his international counterparts. Getting answers from Iran might prove difficult as Canada closed its embassy in Iran in 2012 and suspended diplomatic relations. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States calls for cooperation with any investigation into the cause of the crash.
The crash of the Ukraine International Airlines plane came hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on Iraqi bases housing U.S. soldiers, but Iranian officials said they suspected a mechanical issue brought down the 3½-year-old Boeing 737-800 aircraft. Ukrainian officials initially agreed, but later backed away and declined to offer a cause while the investigation is ongoing.
“Our government will continue to work closely with its international partners to ensure that this crash is thoroughly investigated, and that Canadians’ questions are answered,” Trudeau said in a statement. Trudeau is due to give a news conference later Wednesday.
The plane carried 167 passengers and nine crew members from different nations.
“I join Canadians across the country who are shocked and saddened to see reports that a plane crash outside of Tehran, Iran, has claimed the lives of 176 people, including 63 Canadians,” Trudeau said. “I offer our deepest condolences to those who have lost family, friends, and loved ones in this tragedy.”
Canadian Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne said later said at least 63 Canadians died and as more information becomes available, including details on dual citizens, the number of deceased Canadians could change.
It’s one of the worst losses of life for Canadians in an aviation disaster. In 1985 a bomb exploded and killed 329 people aboard an Air India flight. Air India Flight 182 from Montreal to New Delhi exploded over the Atlantic Ocean near Great Britain on June 23, 1985. Most of the victims were Canadian.
Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau said Canada is offering technical assistance to the upcoming investigation in Iran.
The Tehran to Toronto route via Kyiv is an affordable route for Iranian Canadians and international students. There are no direct flights.
Payman Paseyan, a member of the Iranian-Canadian community in Edmonton, Alberta, said about 27 people from Edmonton, including international students and a family of four that he knew, were on the flight. Two professors from the University of Alberta, Pedram Mousavibafrooei and Mojgan Daneshmand, and their daughters Daria and Dorina died. He said he often would go to the gym with the father and described him as a nice guy who often visited his former restaurant with his family.
“I am not aware of any extended family members that they have here. It’s just terrible,” Paseyan said.
He said most of victims were visiting family in Iran over the holidays. He said many were dual citizens and many were international students. “One of the reasons why you take that flight is you wouldn’t want to take a flight that has a connection in the United States because international students can’t do that,” he said.
Paseyan said members of the Iranian-Canadian community learned of the crash while being glued to the news after Tuesday’s missile attacks in Iraq.
“Many were expecting their friends and families members to come back” and were aware of the flight they were on, said Paseyan, a former president of the Iranian Heritage Society of Edmonton. “They were worried about their family members that were in Iran, and now this has compounded that with worry for the community.”
He said there are questions about what caused the crash but said that’s not the focus right now.
“There is speculation but the community is not worried about what caused this. We lost our community members. Whether it’s a missile, mishap or a technical issue or whatever, we want our community members. We lost one percent of our Edmonton Iranian community members on that flight. It’s just terrible,” he said.
The University of Guelph in Canada said two PhD students, as well as the partner of one of the students, were among the 176 who died. Ghanimat Azhdari was a student in the department of geography and Milad Ghasemi was a student in marketing. Azhdari’s partner, Hamed Alibeiki, also died.
Western University said four of their students died. Three were current graduate students and one was an incoming graduate student. They did not name the students.
The University of Waterloo also said two PhD students’ names were on a list of passengers provided by the airline, but did not confirm whether they made it onto the plane.
Hamid Gharajeh, of the Iran Democratic Association of Canada, said he’s spoken to families and friends of some of the victims. Many aboard were students on their way back to Canada after the holiday break, he said.
“Our hearts go out for all these young people who are just trying to get back to their lives,” Gharajeh said in Toronto. “It’s unfortunate.”
Canada is urging Canadians to avoid non-essential travel to Iran due to the volatile security situation, but the travel advisory makes no mention of the plane crash.
“There are no words. 176 lives lost. 63 Canadians won’t be coming home,” Opposition New Democrat leader Jagmeet Singh tweeted. “These families deserve clear answers, but whatever the case, this is devastating.”
Andriy Shevchenko, Ukraine’s ambassador to Canada, also expressed condolences.
“My heart is broken. We will have to go through this terrible pain together with our Canadian brothers and sisters,” he tweeted.