138 passengers aboard plane that crashed in Iran were headed for Canada: Trudeau
TORONTO -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said most of the passengers on board a Ukrainian plane that crashed near Iran’s capital were headed to Canada.
Of the 167 passengers and nine crew members who were killed in the Ukraine International Airlines jet crash, Trudeau told reporters that 138 of them -- including 57 Canadians -- were scheduled to arrive in Toronto Wednesday afternoon on a connecting flight from Kyiv, Ukraine.
“On behalf of all Canadians, I would like to express my deepest condolences to those who are mourning the loss of a loved one,” he told reporters. “Your loss is indescribable and this is a heartbreaking tragedy.”
“An entire country is with you. We share your grief.”
Flight PS752, a Boeing 737-800 aircraft, hurtled into farmland outside of Tehran, Iran only minutes after taking off from the capital’s main international airport on Wednesday morning.
Trudeau said he’s spoken with the leaders of France, the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia to discuss the matter.
“They all expressed their deepest sympathies to the families and to all Canadians and offered to help and support,” he added.
Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Vadym Prystaiko said there were 63 Canadians, 82 Iranians, and 11 Ukrainians on board. There were also 10 Swedish, four Afghan, three German, and three British nationals killed in the crash.
The airline released a list of the passengers on board the plane which includes birth dates, but not nationalities. The youngest person on the flight was born in 2016, while the oldest was born in 1950.
In a statement released Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “shocked and saddened” to learn of the plane crash in Iran.
“Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to those who have lost family, friends, and loved ones in this tragedy. Our government will continue to work closely with its international partners to ensure that this crash is thoroughly investigated, and that Canadians’ questions are answered. Today, I assure all Canadians that their safety and security is our top priority,” he said.
Canada’s foreign affairs minister Francois-Philippe Champagne also released a statement following news of the plane crash.
“I was deeply shocked and saddened to learn that, according to preliminary reports, at least 63 Canadians were among the 176 people who were killed when Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 crashed after takeoff yesterday near Tehran, Iran. As more information becomes available, including regarding dual citizens, this number could change,” he said.
“I would like to extend my deepest condolences to those who lost loved ones in this tragic event, including citizens of a number of other countries.”
Champagne added that he has been in touch with his Ukrainian counterpart and the Canadian government is committed to working closely with international partners on the investigation.
Anyone seeking information about Canadian citizens believed to be on board Flight PS752 was urged to contact Global Affairs Canada’s Emergency Watch and Response Centre at 1-800-387-3124 or by email at email@example.com.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau said on Twitter his office was in touch with their international counterparts and that Canada is offering “technical assistance” to the investigation.
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada also offered its condolences. It has appointed an expert to review any information released by Iran and monitor the investigation.
The agency also said it is available to provide any assistance in the investigation.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy also extended his condolences to the victims’ families. His office said he was cutting short a visit to Oman to return to Kyiv. Ukrainian officials have offered to assist with the investigation and announced they’re preparing to send a group of specialists to help determine the cause of the crash.
Andriy Shevchenko, Ukraine’s ambassador to Canada, tweeted that his “heart is broken” and they “will have to go through this terrible pain together with our Canadian brothers and sisters.”
Shevchenko added that Ukraine would welcome Canada’s help with the investigation.
“The investigation on the ground is conducted by Iran, and Ukraine will of course contribute," he said in an interview with The Canadian Press. "We're ready to do everything we can to help the investigation. We hope that the Canadian offer of contribution into the investigation will be recognized and appreciated."
Most of the passengers were en route to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, before making their way to other destinations, airline officials said. Staff at Boryspil airport in Kyiv told The Associated Press that Iranian students coming home after winter holidays usually make up the passengers on that flight.
Among the Canadian students on board included those from the University of Toronto, the University of Alberta, the University of Guelph the University of Manitoba, Western University, the University of Ottawa and Carleton University.
The University of Waterloo and McMaster University have also indicated that it appears a couple of their students were on the passenger list, though it’s not yet clear whether the students in fact boarded the flight.
The devastating crash happened hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on two Iraqi bases housing American soldiers. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the strikes were in retaliation for the U.S. killing of Iranian top general Qassem Soleimani.
Trudeau condemned the Iranian missile attacks and said all Canadians stationed at the Iraqi bases are safe and accounted for.
“We continue to encourage a de-escalation of tensions and a dialogue in the region,” he added.
Iranian officials said they suspected a mechanical issue was to blame for the plane crash. Ukrainian authorities initially agreed, but later backed away from that assessment, citing the ongoing investigation.
There is no indication at this stage whether the plane crash is connected to the missile attack earlier that day.
When asked if he could categorically say whether or not the plane was shot down, Trudeau said he couldn’t and indicated that it is “too early to speculate.”
“Our focus today is on the many, many families who are grieving and our focus in the days and weeks to come will be on answering the questions that they have and indeed we all have as to how this happened,” he said.
Rescue workers search the scene where an Ukrainian plane crashed in Shahedshahr southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
In light of the escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran, Global Affairs Canada warned against any “non-essential” travel to Iran due to the “volatile security situation, the regional threat of terrorism and the risk of arbitrary detention.” The agency said those who hold dual Canadian-Iranian citizenship were particularly at risk for being arbitrarily questioned, arrested and detained.
“Iran does not recognize dual nationality and Canada will not be granted consular access to dual Canadian-Iranian citizens,” the statement said. “Canadian-Iranian dual citizens should carefully consider the risks of travelling to Iran.”
Following the plane crash in Iran, Canada’s only air carrier in the region, Air Canada, rerouted its flights to “ensure the security of its flights into and over the Middle East.”
Flight PS752 had been delayed from taking off from Imam Khomeini International Airport by nearly an hour and never made it above 2,400 metres in the air, according to data from the flight-tracking website FlightRadar24.
Garneau said satellite data shows the plane “took off in a normal fashion,” but that the satellites quickly lost contact with the aircraft.
“(It’s) suggesting something very unusual happened, but we cannot speculate at this point,” he said. “There are a number of possibilities at this point and we will have to wait to obtain more information.”
Bodies of the victims of a Ukrainian plane crash are collected by rescue team at the scene of the crash in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
While it’s still unclear what caused the crash, Qassem Biniaz, a spokesman for Iran’s Road and Transportation Ministry, was quoted in the state-run IRNA news agency as saying a fire struck one of the aircraft’s engines and the pilot then lost control of the plane.
Ukraine International Airlines announced that it has suspended flights indefinitely to Tehran.
Hassan Razaeifar, the head of Iran’s air crash investigation committee, said it appeared the pilot was unable to communicate with air-traffic controllers in Tehran moments before the crash.
Boeing released a brief statement about the crash involving one of its aircraft.
“This is a tragic event and our heartfelt thoughts are with the crew, passengers, and their families. We are in contact with our airline customer and stand by them in this difficult time. We are ready to assist in any way needed.”
While Iranian authorities said the plane’s black boxes, which record cockpit conversations and instrument data, had been found, the semi-official Mehr news agency quoted the head of Iran's civil aviation organization as saying the black boxes would not be sent to Boeing for investigation. Like other airline manufacturers, Boeing typically assists with investigations involving their aircraft.
Garneau said the black box could have an oral recording of the conversations between personnel on the aircraft and the control tower, which could shed light on exactly what happened.
“It might contain other information on the intelligence side could be revealed in the days to come,” he added. “That’s the information we are seeking to obtain.”