James Hogan received the phone call about 10 minutes after the news started to break.
“Professor, I think Amir was on that plane,” one of his students said.
The assistant professor had been teaching at the University of Alberta in Edmonton for almost five years, in the mechanical engineering department. He grew up in Mount Herbert, P.E.I.
In May 2019, he had received an email from Amir Hossein Saeedinia, who was just finishing his masters in Iran and wanted to study his PhD at the U of A. Something about Saeedinia’s email stood out to Hogan, giving him a good sense of the Iranian's personality.
Over the following months, Hogan and Saeedinia communicated frequently. It was clear that Saeedinia was a hard worker and a man of character.
“He was laser-focused on his education,” Hogan said. “(And) he had a big smile.”
Despite being a world away, Saeedinia became very involved in the school’s mechanical engineering community via email. He would often be first to read one of his future classmate’s papers to congratulate them, and he even helped recruit some people into the program, Hogan said.
By the time Saeedinia was ready to move to Canada and start his PhD, some of Hogan’s other students were arranging to pick him up from the airport. His flight was scheduled to fly out of Tehran, Iran on Jan. 8 – and his long-time girlfriend, who was also student at the university, was flying with him.
Hogan is sympathetic for people who pack up and leave their homes to pursue education or new opportunities. It’s similar to how many Islanders, including himself, move to Western Canada for work, he said.
“This is what Amir was doing.”
But on the day of Amir’s move, the Ukrainian International Airlines passenger jet he was on was shot down by an Iranian missile shortly after takeoff. While the investigation is ongoing, the country later announced it was unintentional.
All 176 passengers died, 63 of which were Canadian with many of them dual Iranian nationals.
“It’s tragic for Canada,” said Hogan.
"It makes this global event even more tragic knowing what the cause was and knowing how angry and upset the families are back in Iran and in Canada too.''
As news of the incident continued to unfold, authorities began confirming the names of victims. Hogan soon discovered that Saeedinia wasn’t the only victim he was close with.
“Everyone was Pedram’s buddy. The students thought highly of him because he remembered their names.”
Pedram Mousavi, a fellow professor at the U of A, had travelled home to Iran with his wife, Mojgan Daneshmand and their daughters Daria Mousavi, 14, and Dorina Mousavi, 9, to visit family.
Hogan said Padram was not only a colleague but a friend. Daneshmand was on Hogan's hiring committee.
He says the couple were very happy people, who were extremely passionate about their work, and leaders in their field.
"Both of them were very involved with developing and patenting communication technologies,'' he said.
Padram was an accomplished engineer and researcher. He worked on high-impact projects, mostly in fields of communication and 5G technologies.
He was also a bit of a jokester, and similar to Saeedinia, was often smiling, said Hogan.
“Everyone was Pedram’s buddy,” he said. “The students thought highly of him because he remembered their names.”
Hogan says the immense loss to the university community has hung heavily in the air in the days following the tragedy.
"Everyone was upset, everyone was crying,'' he said.
"You could hardly walk by anyone in the hallway without shedding a tear.''
'Hard to talk about'
Hogan was sitting up front at Sunday's memorial service organized by the University of Alberta in collaboration with the local Iranian-Canadian community and the City of Edmonton.
"Leading up to the service it was very sad,'' he said.
"At the end of the memorial service, it seemed like it helped a lot with the grieving process...we have to carry on.''
While he’s sad for the loss, he believes sharing victims' stories is helpful for their family and friends, especially those living in Iran. It’ll be challenging to return to his program’s regular schedule, but it’s important not to forget the rest of the school’s student base during this hard time, he said.
“We have to go back and support them,” he said.
He added, however, that granting interviews to media that have been calling him from around the world has been emotionally exhausting.
"It's hard to talk about it every time.''