MUN student booked flight on doomed plane out of Iran — but changed airlines days before crash

A Memorial University PhD candidate visiting her parents in Iran made a flight change that saved her life — just days before a plane crash that killed 176 passengers and crew.

Bahar Haghighat was initially booked to be on Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752, which crashed shortly after takeoff from Tehran, Iran's capital city, killing 176 passengers and crew on board. Among them were 63 Canadians.

She said she booked the flight because it was a cheaper option by about $200, but a few days before flying — after reading some negative customer reviews about delays and cancellations — she decided to fly with an Austrian airline instead. 

"I don't know how to describe my feelings. I feel like I'm still shocked," she said. "I'm so happy that I'm with my family and I have their support." 

Haghighat woke up Wednesday to texts, missed calls and e-mails from friends worried about her well-being. 

I try to put a mask on my face and do not think about it, but I cannot. - Mahdis Taghizadeh

"Because of the situation between Iran and the United States I thought maybe the United States just bombarded us or something happened," Haghighat told CBC News from her home in Qasvim, Iran.

"So I checked the news, and I talked to my parents and then I realized, 'Oh, there's a plane crash.'"

The family watched as news began to roll in of the crash. Haghighat said she was familiar with some of the passengers, recognizing their faces as pictures began to surface through news outlets of who was on board.

PhD students

Mahdis Taghizadeh, who has lived in St. John's for three years, told CBC News she was friends for 10 years with two people aboard Flight PS752 — students from her home country of Iran who were on their way to becoming PhD candidates in Canada.

Chris O'Neill Yates/Skype

"I try to put a mask on my face and do not think about it, but I cannot. I can't stop thinking about I could have been in that plane or I could have been in that path ... because my life journey was pretty similar," Taghizadeh said.

Taghizadeh said she first read the news after seeing a post on Instagram at 6 a.m. Wednesday morning.

Most Iranian students come to Canada on a student visa, she said, and share a bond through similar life experiences and ambitions. 

Another friend of Taghizadeh's, who lives in Toronto, lost his wife and daughter in the crash as well.

"It was difficult. It is difficult," she said.

Tensions rising

Both Haghighat and Taghizadeh are wary of the brewing tension between Iran and the United States.

Both women still have family and friends who live in Iran.

Taghizadeh said she often gets the real news of home from her friends. She said her parents, and her husband's parents, lie to them or often leave out details when asked about what is happening on the home front to try to save the new Canadian couple from worrying.

"It's difficult but maybe sometimes it's more difficult than people in Iran because we don't have access to them, and when you're far from something you feel really bad about that," she said.

"They are struggling, but for us it could be more difficult to watch them struggling."

Haghighat said the struggle between Iran and United States struggle is only hurting innocent people.

"People here are suffering economically, and now the tensions about the war and the concerns that you have in your daily life, it's just very stressful," she said.  

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