July 3, 2020

Winnipeg
25° C, Partly cloudy

Full Forecast

WEATHER ALERT

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

Opinion

In time of tension, grief is tie that binds

Loss of 176 people in crash near Tehran reverberates around world

(AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)</p><p>Rescue workers search the scene where a Ukrainian plane crashed as the bodies of victims in body bags lie on the ground, in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday. A Ukrainian airplane with more than 170 people crashed on Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Tehran's main airport, killing all onboard. </p>

(AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Rescue workers search the scene where a Ukrainian plane crashed as the bodies of victims in body bags lie on the ground, in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday. A Ukrainian airplane with more than 170 people crashed on Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Tehran's main airport, killing all onboard.

At first, when a large aircraft crashes, it’s the numbers that defy understanding. They are always too big, too heavy, too raw.

One plane: Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752. On board: 167 passengers and nine crew. In a flash outside Tehran, all of them gone. Little more than a blink, and all those lives lost.

That’s how the news breaks. It’s the details that bring it home. The details of the dead that tie a thread between where the crash happened, and the rest of the world. Airports are global villages. Stories converge in them from every corner of the planet, and from there disperse to dozens or even hundreds of homes.

For Canada, as details of Wednesday’s doomed flight emerged, it was almost too much to bear. In an era of sanctions, the route — out of Tehran to Kyiv and beyond — is one of the most cost-effective passages between Canada and Iran; because of this, a reported 63 Canadians were on board the flight, including many students and academics.

Mahdi Sadeghi (left), Bahareh Haj Esfandiari and their daughter, Anisa Sadeghi, are among those killed in the crash of a Ukrainian International Airlines jet moments after takeoff from Tehran, Iran Wednesday. (FACEBOOK)

Mahdi Sadeghi (left), Bahareh Haj Esfandiari and their daughter, Anisa Sadeghi, are among those killed in the crash of a Ukrainian International Airlines jet moments after takeoff from Tehran, Iran Wednesday. (FACEBOOK)

This is how we lost a heartrending wave of bright minds and young talent. The victims hailed from across Canada: Vancouver, Guelph, Ont., and Montreal. The Iranian-Canadian community in Edmonton lost as many as 30 people, more than one per cent of its size.

It’s an almost unimaginable figure.

From Manitoba, eight members of our community gone. They include: Forough Khadem, 38, a scientist who was thrilled to watch the Winnipeg Blue Bombers win the 2019 Grey Cup; 32-year-old biomedical engineering student Amirhossein Ghasemi, on his way home from visiting his fiancee; and 21-year-old U of M student Amirhossein Ghorbani.

Mehdi Sadeghi and his wife, Bahareh Hajesfandiari, who both volunteered with the local Iranian community, were on the flight with their daughter, 10-year-old Anisa Sadeghi. So was a mother, Farzahen Naderi, 38, who died in the crash alongside her 11-year-old son, Nozhan Sadr.

Now we see the photos of their faces, submitted by grieving friends and family. Now we see the victims with an aching clarity. Here is Khadem, proudly standing next to a U of M professor after she defended her PhD; here is Sadeghi and his family, posing at a festive event, eyes lit by broad smiles.

Forough Khadem was among the 176 people killed in the crash of a Ukrainian International Airlines jet moments after takeoff from Tehran, Iran Wednesday. The 38-year-old earned her PhD in immunology in 2016 at the U of M. (FACEBOOK)

Forough Khadem was among the 176 people killed in the crash of a Ukrainian International Airlines jet moments after takeoff from Tehran, Iran Wednesday. The 38-year-old earned her PhD in immunology in 2016 at the U of M. (FACEBOOK)

To put these losses into perspective takes time, grief, and searching. There will eventually be an explanation as to what caused the crash, but there is never truly an answer as to "why." That is a bigger question, and one answered in faith, or lack thereof — still, there is a whisper of a message here that is worth hearing.

The circumstances of the crash are, to put it mildly, murky.

First, the facts: the aircraft was a three-year-old Boeing 737-800, practically new by commercial airline standards. The model is also distinctly different from the 737 MAX, which are still grounded worldwide, and does not have the same features of that troubled model.

It took off from Imam Khomeini International Airport at 6:12 a.m. local time. For just over two minutes, its airspeed and altitude progressed normally, as it ascended along its standard flightpath.

It vanished from radar, about 4,620 feet above the ground; the pilots sent no distress message.

Mojgan Daneshmand (left) and Pedram Mousavi, University of Manitoba grads and professors at the University of Alberta, were killed in the crash along with their daughters Daria and Dorina.  (Twitter)

Mojgan Daneshmand (left) and Pedram Mousavi, University of Manitoba grads and professors at the University of Alberta, were killed in the crash along with their daughters Daria and Dorina. (Twitter)

Within hours, Iran state news said the crash was caused by a "technical problem." A video, widely circulated on regional news and purporting to show the plane’s fatal descent, showed a ball of flame plummeting from the sky before hitting the ground.

New Boeings do not tend to burst into flames in mid-air. Such crash investigations typically take weeks or months of analysis to find a cause of technical failure, especially in the absence of telltale evidence from radar or air traffic communications. Make of that what you will.

But whatever the cause, it happened against a backdrop of escalating tension. It happened during the time of the United States’ travel ban against Iranian citizens, in place since 2017. It happened on the same day there were reports of Iranian-American citizens being detained and hectored by U.S. border officials.

It happened in the same week war propaganda ramped up. The same week a Democratic senator, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, began his condemnation of the U.S. assassination of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani by tweeting "Iran is full of malevolent evildoers."

After an outcry, Murphy apologized for the wording, saying he "typed too fast" and meant to specify only the regime itself as "full of malevolent evildoers," not the entire nation. But in truth, this is so often the way American officials talk about Iran: as a faceless pit of malice, or else as an "axis of evil."

RUTH BONNEVILLE  /  WINNIPEG FREE PRESS   Morteza Tavalkoli, grieves the loss of his best friend, Amir Ghasemi, during vigil at UMSU on Wednesday.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Morteza Tavalkoli, grieves the loss of his best friend, Amir Ghasemi, during vigil at UMSU on Wednesday.

None of this is true, of course.

Iran is a nation of people, living their lives, pursuing their dreams, loving their children. The fact of this should be so self-evident it should not require repeating; but in a time of escalation, repeating it is all that stands against the propaganda that seeks to dehumanize, and thus enable acts of aggression.

So in the grief of the crash, we find truth to the lie of war, to the lie of sanctions, to the lie of the games played out between the power brokers of nations.

The truth is this: the world is deeply interconnected. There is no community that does not hold bonds to countless others within it. We are not so very different, wherever we are from.

The truth is this: the world is deeply interconnected. There is no community that does not hold bonds to countless others within it. We are not so very different, wherever we are from.

When the warmongers beat their drums, the cries they try to drown out are the sounds of everything human. The joy of newlyweds beginning their lives together. The murmurs of loving parents raising cherished children. The voices of young scientists eagerly presenting their studies, lighting a hope for humanity’s future.

These are the stories of some of the people whose lives were lost, when UIA 752 fell out of the sky.

It’s too soon to know why. But if the grief that swept the world, echoing in communities from Iran to Canada, can carry a message through these scary times, then let it be a reminder there is always more that unites, than divides.

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin
Reporter-at-large

Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.

Read full biography

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.

To those who have made donations, thank you.

To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.

The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.

After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.

If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.

We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.

The Free Press will close this commenting platform at noon on July 14.

We want to thank those who have shared their views over the years as part of this reader engagement initiative.

In the coming weeks, the Free Press will announce new opportunities for readers to share their thoughts and to engage with our staff and each other.

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.

Advertisement

Advertise With Us