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Many Canadians Of Iranian Descent Were Aboard Ukrainian Jet That Crashed In Tehran

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

When a passenger jet flying from Iran to Ukraine crashed just after takeoff, it killed all 176 people onboard, including dozens of Canadians. Reporter David McGuffin has more from Ottawa.

DAVID MCGUFFIN, BYLINE: The flag on Canada's Parliament buildings here in Ottawa are at half-staff, mourning the biggest loss of Canadian lives in an aviation disaster in 34 years. Some 63 Canadians are listed as dead in the Ukraine Airlines crash in the early hours of this morning as it took off from Tehran for the Ukrainian capital.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (Non-English language spoken).

MCGUFFIN: Iranian TV reported that a Boeing 737 passenger airliner belonging to Ukraine Airlines experienced technical problems when taking off from Imam Khomeini Airport and crashed. This model is different from the 737 Max, which were grounded after deadly crashes last year. Most of the dead today were Iranians or Canadians of Iranian descent. At least 30 came from the small Iranian community in the city of Edmonton in western Canada.

Community leader Payman Parsayan and told the CBC he learned of the tragedy while watching live news reports about the Iranian missile strikes targeting U.S. troops in Iraq.

PAYMAN PARSAYAN: We lost about 1% of our entire community on that flight, people I knew personally very well. Every one of our committee members was touched in one way or another when that plane went down.

MCGUFFIN: Among those lost, a couple who were just married last week in Iran and two University of Alberta professors and their children. There were also many Iranian students on board enrolled at universities across Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered condolences and said his government will work with international partners to ensure the crash is thoroughly investigated.

For Canada, helping with the investigation is complicated. It cut diplomatic ties with Tehran in 2012 over Iran's poor human rights record and support for terrorism. Iran has said it will cooperate with Ukraine on the investigation, but its civil aviation chief said his country will not hand over the plane's black boxes to Boeing. This angers Payman Parsayan.

PARSAYAN: This is inappropriate. This should be accessible by many parties. And this is not a one-country show. Many citizens were killed today.

MCGUFFIN: And there are questions about just how the plane crashed. The Ukrainian embassy in Tehran deleted its initial statement blaming mechanical failure. Canadian aviation expert Phyl Durdey notes the plane was only 3 years old.

PHYL DURDEY: If the aircraft crashes or has a mechanical failure, the debris field will be very centralized. At this point, from the pictures that we've seen in the videos that we've seen so far, it is over kilometers of space. So that's telling me that the aircraft came apart in flight.

MCGUFFIN: So the question is, what made it come apart? Meanwhile, in Edmonton and across Canada, a nation mourns.

For NPR News, I'm David McGuffin in Ottawa.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.