Students gather to commemorate life of fellow classmate, others lost to Iran plane crash

An informal memorial was held at the University of Victoria on Thursday evening

A gathering of more than 50 people came together at a cafe at the University of Victoria on Thursday evening to remember those who lost their lives in the tragic plane crash on Wednesday in Iran.

Hugs, tears and stories were shared in the small, but packed room for about an hour before breaking into smaller conversations of remembrance.

The death toll includes at least 63 Canadians, 11 British Columbians and one Greater Victoria resident. Roja Omidbakhsh was a first-year student in UVic’s bachelor of commerce program, it was her first year in Canada.

First-year University of Victoria student Roja Omidbakhsh has been identified as one of 176 victims of the Tehran air crash. (LinkedIn)

The plane, now believed to have been shot down by an Iranian missile, was carrying 176 people. The people who stood up to share their connection to the tragedy spoke about combing through the list of names, looking for specific people but finding others they knew.

Members of the media were asked to refrain from taking photos or asking for interviews inside the memorial to allow students, friends and community members time to grieve.

Tirdad Shirvani, an Iranian refugee, came to the memorial because he didn’t know what else to do despite not knowing anyone on the flight.

RELATED: How a missile might have shot a plane down in Iran, and what a probe will look for

“What else can I do? [I feel] desperation, sadness, helplessness,” he said outside the memorial. “There isn’t much I can do but come here and mourn.”

Shirvani feels the blame is on Iran, whether it was a missile that brought down the plane or just faulty mechanics. He says the Ukrainian airline is a popular one for students because it’s one of the cheapest options available.

RELATED: Iran believed to have shot down airliner, perhaps by mistake: Trudeau

According to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the strike that brought the plane down might have been unintentional.

The plane crashed minutes after taking off from Tehran’s airport as it was heading to Kyiv, with 138 passengers scheduled to transfer from Kyiv to Toronto.

RELATED: ‘People are in shock’: Victoria prof. says Iran plane crash will reverberate across Canada

The crash came after a week of soaring tensions in the Middle East, occurring just hours after Iran launched missile attacks on bases in Iraq where American and allied troops are stationed. Iran said the attacks were retaliation for the American killing of Maj.-Gen. Qassem Suleimani near Baghdad.

Rescue workers carry the body of a victim of an Ukrainian plane crash in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. A Ukrainian airplane carrying 176 people crashed on Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Tehran’s main airport, killing all onboard. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

MP Laurel Collins, who was also in attendance, said she chose to be there to show support to the UVic and Iranian communities, along with the family and loved ones of all those who were lost in the plane crash.

“Right now is a time to grieve and to be here for the people who are grieving,” she said. “In the coming days, I think the families deserve answers. We want a really thorough and transparent investigation.”

According to Collins, she, along with other members of parliament, will be focused on getting answers for families, along with deescalating the situation with the Middle East.

“We do not want to be lead into a U.S. lead war,” she says.

According to an initial Iranian investigative report released Thursday, Flight PS752, a Boeing 737 operated by Ukrainian International Airlines, was on fire and attempting to get back to the Tehran airport when it crashed after reaching nearly 8,000 feet of altitude. The report says the flight crew never made a radio call for help.

— With files from The Canadian and Associated Press



kendra.crighton@blackpress.ca

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