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Winnipeggers among victims in Tehran plane crash

Last Updated Jan 8, 2020 at 6:20 pm CDT

TEHRAN, Iran – At least five people from Manitoba have been confirmed dead in an Iranian plane crash that killed 176 passengers.

Shortly after takeoff in Tehran, the Boeing 737-800 crashed, killing all on board. A total of 63 Canadians were on the flight to Kyiv.

READ MORE: 63 Canadians killed in Iran plane crash: Ukraine official

One of the victims was immunologist Dr. Forough Khadem, a Ph.D. graduate from the University of Manitoba who worked for non-profit organization Mitacs Inc.

Jude Uzonna, the Health Research Chair and an associate professor of immunology at the University of Manitoba, said he is devastated by the death of his friend and colleague.

He met Khadem at a conference in Iran where she was a translator. At the end of the conference, Uzonna told her if she ever wanted to do a doctoral program she could come to his lab in Winnipeg.

She took him up on the offer and graduated about three years ago from the University of Manitoba.

She ‘radiated love’ and empathy, said victim’s former prof

Khadem was a talented immunologist and an absolutely fantastic person to be around, Uzonna said.

“If you walk into a room and Forough is there, you will try to find out who is this lady. She is very affable. She connects with people,” he said. “When you look at her, Forough radiated love. She would radiate humanity, she would radiate empathy.”

She went home to Iran in December to visit family. He texted her Monday to say he hoped that she was doing well. She responded that she was coming back to Winnipeg and hoped to see him soon.

“Now she’s gone,” he said.

The U of M’s Department of Immunology shared Khadem’s photo on Facebook mourning the loss and expressing condolences to her family.

“She was a unique and accomplished human being who would do anything to help anyone and will never be forgotten,” reads the post in part. One commenter wrote she is in disbelief.

“I’m devastated. She gave me a big hug before she left for Iran, just a few days before I retired and said ‘See you soon’,” said Karen Morrow on Facebook.

“I can’t imagine how her family is feeling. Such a huge loss to the world.”

“We are deeply saddened to hear that Forough Khadem was on flight PS752 today. We extend our deepest condolences to Forough’s family and friends,” said Mitacs Chief Business Development Officer Eric Bosco in a statement.

“[Forough] had been a passionate supporter of innovation in Manitoba ever since. We will remember Forough’s passion for Mitacs, enthusiasm for innovation in Manitoba, and her positive outlook on life. We will miss her humour, her kindness, and her warm spirit.”

There was also a family of three from Winnipeg killed in the crash: father Mehdi Sadeghi, mother Bahareh Hajesfandiari, and their daughter Anissa Sadeghi.

Family friend Eshan Zeynali told CityNews the family was kind and active in the community.

“They were some of the nicest people I’ve met,” said the family’s neighbour Behnam Soltani.

Soltani said the family was in Iran to visit relatives over the holidays and he knew they were coming back on the flight that crashed.

The family were involved in the local Iranian community, Soltani said. Mehdi Sadeghi was a board member for the Iranian association and Hajesfandiari volunteered at a Persian school.

Soltani was at their home about two weeks before they left. He never expected they wouldn’t return.

“Everybody is in shock. It is so bad.”

Mehdi Sadeghi, Bahareh Hajesfandiari, and their daughter Anissa Sadeghi were among those killed in a plane crash in Tehran, Iran. Jan. 9, 2020. (CREDIT: Facebook photo)

Amir Shirzadi, a board member with the Manitoba Iranian Student Association, said his good friend Amirhossien Ghasemi was also on the plane.

Shirzadi said his friend was visiting family in Iran and was on his way back to Winnipeg. Ghasemi was a graduate student in biomedical engineering at the University of Manitoba.

“I saw him before he left the country,” said Shirzadi, who added that the two played games together.

“I can’t use past tense. I think he’s coming back. We play again. We talk again. It’s too difficult to use past tense, too difficult. No one can believe it.”

Mayor Brian Bowman tweeted Wednesday afternoon saying that the Winnipeg sign will be dimmed out of respect for all the victims.

The University of Manitoba said it will be lowering its flag to half-mast to honour those killed. Premier Brian Pallister also took to Twitter to say he is saddened by the tragic news.

“We mourn the loss of those on board, including the 63 Canadians and those with ties to Manitoba. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of the victims during this difficult time.”

-with files from Stefanie Lasuik, The Canadian Press