Bound by grief, 2 men become friends on journey to ID bodies of loved ones

They met on a flight to Germany, both bound for Tehran, drawn together by their shared grief.

One from Edmonton, the other from Toronto, both focused on reaching their homeland in Iran, the scene of this week's airliner crash.

Standing side by side in Frankfurt Airport, connected by a shared set of earbuds, Mohammad Javad Soleimani Meimandi and Alireza Ghandchi talked about their pain with CBC News.

"I lost all of my family — my son, my daughter and my wife," Ghandchi, who lives in Toronto, said while they waited to catch a flight for Istanbul, the next leg of the journey.

The crash killed his wife, Faezeh Falsafi, his daughter, Dorsa Ghandchi, and his son, Daniel.

"I don't have anything now, and I lost all of the things in the world," he said. "I don't know how I can continue my life."

Skype

While Ghandchi spoke, Soleimani Meimandi let out a long sigh.

When his turn came, he tried to describe the loss of his wife, Elnaz Nabiy, who, like him, was a PhD student at the University of Alberta's School of Business.

"I cannot describe by just words — because in just one second, I lost all of my life," said Soleimani Meimandi, who stayed home in Edmonton to study over the holidays while his wife travelled to Iran.

"Somehow life is meaningless right now for me," he said. "I don't know what I should do. The only thing right now I want to do is just go to Iran, attend the funeral and understand the reason for this catastrophe."

Ukrainian International Airlines Flight PS752, bound for Kyiv, crashed Wednesday shortly after taking off from Tehran's international airport. All 176 people on board died: 57 were Canadian citizens, and a total of 138 were ultimately bound for Canada.

The crash killed dentists and doctors, academics and students, families and young couples.

Asked about his family, Ghandchi said his wife had graduated with a master's degree in mechanical engineering from Sharif University of Technology, Iran's most prestigious institution of higher learning. 

He spoke about his 17-year-old daughter, who played piano and loved making graphic animations.

At one point in the interview, he began to say: "And my son is …"

"Was," his new friend corrected.

"Was eight years old," Ghandchi finished the sentence.

His family was in Iran on vacation, Ghandchi said. He couldn't travel with them because of work.

'I'd like to talk about my wife'

Partway through the interview, after a series of questions about the crash, Soleimani Meimandi gently changed the subject. 

"Right now, I'd like to talk about my wife a little bit more, so I actually feel better," he said. "She was a really smart person, a nice person, and talented."

His wife, who also graduated with a master's degree from Sharif University, cared deeply about the struggles of the Iranian people, he said. The couple moved to Canada to continue their studies less than two years ago.

Submitted by Alireza Ghandchi

"And she was always thankful to Canada, that let us go and study and start a new life," he said. "But she cared a lot about people in our home country of Iran."

Ghandchi said he had spoken recently to his family. His daughter told him she had learned a new song while in Iran, probably one by the rock band Queen, and was eager to come home to sing and play it for him.

Queen songs were family favourites, he said, and will be played at the funerals.

'How can we continue?'

Both men — speaking just hours before Iran said it had unintentionally shot down the plane — said they want to know the truth about what happened to Flight PS752. They called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to make sure all questions about the crash are properly answered. 

"It's really important for us to know what was the reason for this catastrophe," said Soleimani Meimandi. "It's really important for us for someone to take responsibility. We are really confused, and we trust nobody."

He wants an international group that includes Iran and Canada and other countries that lost citizens to be involved.

"Our hope is that it was just a technical problem," he said. "This is our sincere hope. We want more solid evidence."

"It's our right to know what happened to our families," Ghandchi said.

Near the end of the interview, Ghandchi asked, rhetorically, "How can I continue?"

Then he glanced at his new friend and said, "How can we continue after that?"