At least six University of Toronto (U of T) students were on the Boeing 737 plane that crashed in Iran last week. The Ukraine bound flight abruptly stopped functioning and crashed less than four minutes after taking off from Tehran early Wednesday morning.

All 176 passengers on board, including the U of T students, were killed.

The U of T students, Mojtaba Abbasnezhad, Mohammad Asadi Lari, Zeynab Asadi Lari, Mohammad Amin Beiruti, Mohammad Amin Jebelli, and Mohammad Saleheh, were passengers on the PS752 flight according to the flight manifest released by Ukrainian International Airlines.

Shortly after the crash, the Ukrainian embassy in Tehran cited engine failure as the primary cause of the crash on their website, as reported by the Globe and Mail. However, that information was later deleted from the website and all corresponding flights to Tehran were immediately suspended by Ukrainian International Airlines.

The airline provided cheap flights to Tehran, allowing many members of the Iranian Canadian community to reach their homeland amidst the tightening sanctions on Iran in recent years.

On Thursday, the Prime Minister announced to reporters in Ottawa that Canada had received intelligence revealing that an Iranian missile shot down the plane and was responsible for the crash.

The government of Iran announced an official apology on Saturday, saying that its military “unintentionally” shot down the PS752.  This comes after Iran repeatedly denied accusations that made them responsible for the tragedy. 

The military statement, broadcasted by state media, said the commercial plane was mistaken for a “hostile target” as the military tensions with the United States were high that night.

“In such a condition, because of human error and in an unintentional way, the flight was hit,” said the military statement, according to CBC News.

The military statement also declared they will upgrade their systems to avoid such accidents from happening in the future.

U of T President Meric Gertler issued a statement on Wednesday regarding the tragic incident. 

“We have learned, with profound sorrow, that several U of T students were among the 176 people killed in the crash of Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 in Tehran, Iran,” said Gertler.

“On behalf of the entire University of Toronto community, I want to say how deeply saddened we are, and how concerned we are for the families and friends of those who lost their lives,” continued Gertler. “We are continuing to gather information and taking care to respect the privacy and wishes of all involved.”

Despite the lack of diplomatic ties between Iran and Canada, which has made it more difficult for Canadian officials to travel to Iran and openly investigate the crash, an expert from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada was invited by Iran’s Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau on Thursday to join the probe into the Ukrainian airliner according to CBC News.

Acting Vice-Principal & Principal of UTM, Ian Orchard, released a statement before noon on Thursday confirming the death of a UTM student in the plane crash.

“It is with great sorrow that I write to inform you that UTM student, Ms. Zeynab Asadi Lari, was among those included on the flight manifest for Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752,” said Orchard.

According to Mark Overton, the dean of Student Affairs at UTM, Asadi Lari was a well-known student among the UTM community.

“Many members of the UTM community, including students, faculty, and staff knew Zeynab through her involvement across campus and beyond. She promoted well-being as a student wellness ambassador with the Health & Counselling Centre, was active in a number of UTM student organizations, and was interested and heavily involved in science education and research as well,” said Overton. 

“Zeynab’s warmth and impact in our UTM campus community will truly be missed,” added Overton.

Zeynab, a fourth-year student in biology, was set to graduate this spring.

Fiona Rawle, a UTM biology professor, still remembers the first day she met Asadi Lari in a large introductory biology class filled with students.

“[S]he came down to the front of the lecture to introduce herself. She stood out from other students in terms of the questions she asked me during office hours. Instead of asking “is this going to be on the exam” she always asked “why?” “Why does it happen this way?” or “what’s the reason for this?” said Rawle.

“This week students have been telling me so many stories about how much Zeynab and her brother [Mohammed] meant to them.”

Her brother, a Ph.D. student studying medicine at U of T, was also killed in the plane crash.

“As a professor, one of our greatest joys is watching students pursue their goals and dreams, often overcoming incredible challenges to do so,” said Rawle.

“I’m immensely sadden[ed] that Zeynab and Mohammed won’t get the opportunity to pursue their dreams, and that their impact won’t be felt on more people,” continued Rawle. “Words don’t seem enough at this time to convey how much they will be missed by the students at UTM and the U of T community.”

While pursuing a science degree at UTM, Zeynab Asadi Lari also served as the president of UTM’s STEM Fellowship. The STEM Fellowship is a non-profit organization that encourages the growth of future STEM leaders at several university branches, including UTM, by providing assistance in data science and scholarly writing.

Yasmin Hashi, a second-year student specializing in biology and the executive vice-president of the club, explained that the club members were still processing the death of Asadi Lari.

“We are in deep sorrow from the unfortunate news and are still processing everything. She impacted the hearts of many, and she will forever be in remembrance. We loved her dearly and sympathies go out to the family and friends,” said Hashi.

“Zeynab was someone who I worked really closely with and was able to see the bright and kind soul she was. She will be remembered [as] an accomplished young leader, mentor, and most importantly a phenomenal friend.”

According to Hashi, the STEM Fellowship at UTM would not have been successful without Zeynab’s character and commitment.

“Zeynab was someone who reminded us about the importance of helping others and is the reason why this branch of Stem Fellowship is here today. She had a mission to help individuals in the community and was passionate with everything she had done,” said Hashi. 

Services are available for UTM students who have been affected by the tragedy.

“Students struggling with grief are welcome to contact any of U of T’s health services including UTM’s Health & Counselling Centre for support, or to utilize U of T’s My SSP support service 24/7, at 1-844-451-9700 or through the My SSP app,” said Overton. 

To celebrate Zeynab’s life, the campus and numerous student organizations are currently working together in planning an event for the week of January 13.

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