UVic student among 176 killed in plane crash in Iran

A University of Victoria student was among the 176 people killed when Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 crashed after takeoff near Tehran on Wednesday.

Saul Klein dean of the University of Victoria’s Gustavson School of Business, said she was a first-year commerce student.

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“We are heartbroken by the loss,” Klein said.

Roja Omidbakhsh, born in 1996, is listed on a passenger list released by the airline.

Mark Colgate, who taught a first-year commerce class at UVic last term, said that Omidbakhsh was in his class.

Colgate said there were about 300 students in the class, so he didn’t know Omidbakhsh well. However, the professor did meet with her a few times.

“She was smiling and was positive,” he said. “I know she had a keen interest in marketing and she was a more mature student and that came across.”

In a profile on LinkedIn, Omidbakhsh said she had worked as a junior marketing assistant for 12-plus months at a trading and shipping company, was passionate about using the latest business and commerce technologies, and was fluent in English and Farsi.

“For us to lose a member of our community and to lose a student that was in our first year and was so enthusiastic about doing a business degree at the University of Victoria, it’s hard to put into words but it’s just such a tragic incident,” Colgate said.

“We’re really trying to get our heads around this and what this means for all the other students ... students who sat next to her every single day that will take this loss very personally, too.”

At least 12 people with ties to B.C. were killed when the plane crashed shortly after takeoff near the capital of Iran on Wednesday, killing everyone on board.

The Canadian government said 138 of the passengers had connecting flights to Canada.

The Boeing 737-800 was en route to Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, when it went down on the outskirts of Tehran.

It’s unclear what caused the crash. The plane appeared to take off normally, according to satellite data. Some reports said the plane was on fire as it dropped to the ground.

Ukraine’s embassy in Iran issued a statement ruling out terrorism, but that was later replaced on the embassy’s website with one saying it’s too soon to say what caused the crash.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said the plane was carrying 63 Canadians, 82 Iranians, 11 Ukrainian passengers and crew, 10 Swedes, four Afghans, three Germans and three Britons.

UVic president Jamie Cassels expressed the university community’s grief over the tragedy.

“The University of Victoria expresses its sympathy to all of the families and friends of those who perished in the crash,” he said.

“It is always a profound loss for the entire community when we lose someone, and our hearts and thoughts to out to Roja’s loved ones. UVic extends its deepest condolences as we join in mourning her loss.”

A gathering in memory of the victims has been organized by the Graduate Students’ Society and Grad House and will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the Side Project coffee shop in the Halpern Centre for Graduate Students on the UVic campus.

Mehdi Hashemi, chairman of the Graduate Students’ Society, extended the sympathies of the group’s executive board.

“These Canadian victims largely belonged to the academic community in British Columbia and across Canada,” he said.

“For that reason, we feel compelled to share our deepest condolences, and express solidarity, with the individuals, families and communities, especially the Iranian-Canadian community and the academic communities, impacted by this sad event.”

Everyone is welcome to the memorial event, he said.

“This surely is a distressing moment for all of us, and we want to reach out to everyone affected,” Hashemi said. “You are not alone in your grief and distress. We will stand by your side, in spirit.” 

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