San Diego student among close-knit Canadian-Iranians killed in Ukrainian plane crash

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Sara Saadat was a student at Alliant International University in San Diego

A woman mourns outside the Alberta Legislature Building in Edmonton, Alberta, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, during a vigil for those killed after a Ukrainian passenger jet crashed, killing at least 63 Canadians, just minutes after taking off from Iran’s capital. (Codie McLachlan/The Canadian Press via AP)

A student at a San Diego university was among those killed in the crash of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, which Iranian officials announced Saturday had been accidentally shot down by the Iranian military.

Sara Saadat, a student at Alliant International University, was on her way back to San Diego when the Boeing 737 crashed after takeoff from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport, school officials announced in a statement.

“We extend our deepest sympathies to family and friends of Alliant Student Sara Saadat,” Alliant, a private university specializing in psychology, education, business and law, said in a statement.

“It appears that Sara was visiting family in Iran and was on her way back to San Diego to begin our spring 2020 term in our PsyD in Clinical Psychology program,” the statement said.

“The Alliant community is still processing the news and many of us are still in shock but overall it’s grief and sympathy for the family and friends of [Saadat],” Amber Eckert, vice president of student affairs, told San Diego ABC station KGTE.

“[Saadat] was a student in our doctorate program in clinical psychology,” Eckert said. “It’s a cohort-based program that means [Saadat] will stay with the same group of students … Very tight-knit group of students, they develop life long friendships.”

Saadat was traveling aboard Flight 752 with her mother, OB-GYN Dr. Shekoufeh Choupannejad, and her sister Saba, according to the Associated Press. The three were among the estimated 57 Iranian-Canadians on the flight, many of them professionals and academics from Western Canada.

The Saadat sisters were among 10 passengers who were members of the close-knit community at Western Canada’s University of Alberta, university officials said. Sara Saadat was a University of Alberta graduate, and her sister Saba was studying medicine there.

Other University of Alberta passengers included Pedram Mousavi and Mojgan Daneshmand, a married couple who taught engineering, and their two daughters, Daria, 14, and Dorina, 9, as well as computer science graduate students Arash Pourzarabi, 26, and Pouneh Gourji, 25, who had gone to Iran for their wedding, according to the BBC. Also on board were current University of Alberta students Elnaz Nabiyi, Nasim Rahmanifar and Amir Saeedinia, as well as 2017 graduate Mohammad Mahdi Elyasi.

“Our focus remains closure, accountability, transparency and justice for the families and loved ones of the victims,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement after Iran announced it had concluded that the jetliner had been shot down by Iranian forces. “This is a national tragedy, and all Canadians are mourning together.”

Flight 752 was bound for Kyiv, Ukraine, when it took off from Tehran at 6:12 a.m. Wednesday. The crash occurred about three hours after Iran fired multiple missiles into Iraq, targeting U.S. military sites in retaliation for the American drone strike that killed Qassem Soleimani, one of its top generals.

In a statement released Saturday morning, Iranian officials said that, in the aftermath of the retaliatory strike, Iranian defenses received “observations of air targets (moving) towards strategic centers of (the) country.” As a result, the statement said, Flight 752 was mistaken for a “hostile flight” after it turned toward a “sensitive military center” of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

“In such circumstances, the plane was unintentionally hit due to human error,” the statement said.

All 176 aboard died in the crash.

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