'Kindest souls': Wedding party tragically killed on doomed flight

Tom Flanagan
News Reporter

A recently married couple along with members of their family were killed when a Ukrainian plane crashed shortly after takeoff in Iran, killing all 176 people on board.

Pouneh Gorji and Arash Pourzarabi were returning to Canada after marrying in Iran last week when the Boeing 737 Ukraine International Airlines flight from Tehran to Kiev slammed into farmland after 6.10am on Wednesday.

Also on board were several members of their family and friends who had travelled to Iran for the ceremony.

Arash Pourzarabi and Pouneh Gorji pictured on their wedding day. Source: Akhavan Studio via Azfar Rizvi

“They were the kindest souls that I knew,” friend Amir Forouzandeh told Canadian publication the National Post.

The couple worked at the University of Alberta and had moved to Canada from Iran after studying computer engineering together in Tehran.

Among the dead were students, university professors and doctors. More than two dozen, including Ms Gorji and Mr Pourzarabi, were from the Canadian city of Edmonton.

Of the 176 people on board, 138 were on their way to Canada.

In a Facebook post, friend Azfar Rizvi paid tribute the newlywed couple, sharing a wedding photo of them.

The couple were returning home to Canada following their wedding in Iran. Source: Arash Sabbaghian via the National Post

“Life is fleeting,” he said after revealing he was due to meet up with them in New York in the near future.

“Please send your prayers for the two and their families.”

"One of my friends, his wife, and his two young girls were killed," Payman Parseyan told Canada's CBC channel.

"It's devastating. We lost about one percent of our entire community on that flight. Every one of our community members was touched in one way or another."

Canada is home to a large Iranian expatriate community and UIA offers discount flights between Tehran and Toronto, transiting Kiev.

The vast majority of the passengers on the Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) flight were non-Ukrainians, including 82 Iranians and 63 Canadians, officials said.

Debris from the plane as authorities asses the crash site. Source: AP

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that Ottawa would work to ensure a thorough investigation.

"This morning, I join Canadians across the country who are shocked and saddened" by the crash, he said.

"Our government will continue to work closely with its international partners to ensure that... (it) is thoroughly investigated, and that Canadians' questions are answered."

Passengers also included 10 Swedes, four Afghans, three Germans and three Brits, Ukraine's foreign minister said. Eleven Ukrainians – including the nine crew – were among the victims.

Speculation rife over cause of crash

The crash came shortly after Tehran launched missiles at bases in Iraq housing American troops, in response to the US killing a top Iranian general last week.

There was no immediate indication of foul play over the plane crash and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned against "speculating" on causes.

An aviation risk monitoring group pointed to "obvious projectile like holes in the fuselage and a wing section," but Nick Waters, a senior investigator for Bellingcat, urged caution.

Rescue workers search the crash site near Tehran airport. Source: AP

At least some of the purported holes "actually appear to be small rocks or other debris in higher resolution images", he said on Twitter.

Stephen Wright, a professor of aircraft systems at Tampere University in Finland, also said it was unlikely the plane had been shot down.

"There is a lot of speculation at the moment it has been shot down – I think that is not going to be the case at all.”

The aircraft was not one of the MAX models fitted with anti-stall systems that have been linked with two other recent crashes of Boeing 737s.

Boeing, which has been roiled by a nine-month crisis after the 737 MAX model was grounded, said it was ready to help in any way needed.

UIA vice president Igor Sosnovskiy told reporters in Kiev the chances of a crew error "are minimal".

A statement posted on the Ukrainian embassy website in Iran saying the crash was caused by an engine malfunction and ruling out an act of terror was later redacted.

A Ukrainian source told AFP the statement had been changed because the embassy had used unverified reports.

Iran officials have announced they will not hand over recovered black boxes from the flight to the US.

With AFP

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