Sara Saadat, her sister Saba and their mother Shekoufeh were all killed in Wednesday's plane crash in Iran

By Joelle Goldstein
January 10, 2020 07:32 PM

A San Diego college student, along with her sister and mother, were three of the victims who sadly died in the Ukranian plane crash this week.

Sara Saadat was traveling back to the U.S. to resume classes at Alliant International University in Scripps Ranch, California when the Boeing 737 jet went down in Iran on Wednesday.

Sara, who graduated from the University of Alberta in 2019 and was currently working toward her doctorate, was killed alongside her sister Saba Saadat and their mother Shekoufeh, according to CBS/CW affiliate KFMB.

The San Diego university confirmed Sara’s death in a statement on Facebook, noting that Sara was returning from a trip to visit family in Iran when the tragedy struck.

“It appears that Sara was visiting family in Iran and was on her way back to San Diego to begin our spring 2020 term in our PsyD in Clinical Psychology program,” the school wrote. “We know that the entire Alliant community is affected when tragedy strikes any one of us, and we are here to provide support during these trying times.”

“We will have on-site critical support counselors available for students in San Diego when spring classes resume next week and will be reaching out soon regarding additional support for the broader Alliant community,” they added.

Saba and Sara Saadat
Courtesy Saadat Family

RELATED: Boeing 737 Plane Bound for Ukraine Was on Fire Before It Crashed, Iranian Investigators Say

The University of Alberta also released a letter on behalf of college president David H. Turpin, revealing that Saba and Sara were two of the 10 people from their campus community who lost their lives in the crash.

Saba was currently enrolled at the school working toward her Bachelor of Science in the Department of Biological Sciences, the university confirmed.

Along with the sisters, Turpin said electrical engineering professor Mojgan Daneshmand and mechanical engineering professor Pedram Mousavi; students Pouneh Gorji, Elnaz Nabiyi, Arash Pourzarabi, Nasim Rahmanifar, Saba Saadat, Amir Saeedinia; and alumnus Mohammad Mahdi Elyasi all died in the crash.

“As I have seen personally in visits across campus, these individuals were integral to the intellectual and social fabric of our university and the broader community,” he wrote. “In the coming days, we will be sharing and celebrating each person’s unique contributions to their academic fields and to the many communities they touched.”

“We will feel their loss — and the aftermath of this tragedy — for many years to come,” Turpin added.

Sara Saadat
Saba Saadat

In his letter, the president announced that a public memorial in collaboration with the Iranian-Canadian community and the city of Edmonton would be held on Sunday, and a dedicated support center was available for students, faculty, and staff all day on Friday.

“This tragedy has also been felt deeply in our city and in the local Iranian-Canadian community,” Turpin wrote. “I know that our community is reeling from this loss, and I encourage you to reach out and seek any support needed during this time.”

“On behalf of the University of Alberta, I want to extend our heartfelt condolences, thoughts, and sympathy to our colleagues across Canada,” he finished. “So many Canadian universities have also lost students, faculty, staff, and alumni in this tragedy, and we share in their sorrow.”

Mohammad Mahdi Elyasi
Linked In
Nasim Rahmanifar
Linked In

The Saadats weren’t the only family members who died together in the crash.

Reera Esmaeilion, age 9, and her mother Parisa Eghbalian also perished, according to NBC News, as well as Nova Scotian sisters Masoumeh “Masi” and Mandieh Ghavi.

Eghbalian, 42, and Reera’s deaths were confirmed on Facebook by their husband and father, Hamed Esmaeilion.

“I used to be ‘Hamed Esmaeilion.’ Now, at the airports of the world, I introduce myself in this way, ‘My wife and daughter were on that plane,'” he wrote in a heartbreaking post, adding that he didn’t know how to be strong amid the tragedy.

A second post on Thursday featuring a photo of Reera said, “She said ‘I don’t want to go to Harvard. I want to go to Hogwarts.’  Why did I have to call her school yesterday and said Ray is not coming again?”

Reera Esmaeilion and Parisa Eghbalian
Reera Esmaeilion

Dalhousie University, the college that Masi was currently attending and working toward her masters in engineering at, confirmed her and her sister’s deaths in a statement on their website.

“Masi was a master’s student in Internetworking in the Faculty of Engineering, who moved to Nova Scotia from Iran last summer. She also working locally with a Bedford-based I.T. company. She was traveling with her younger sister, Mandieh, who was coming to Halifax to begin studies of her own,” the college wrote.

Sadly, the university also revealed that one of its employees, Sharieh Faghihi, passed away.

The college said that Faghihi obtained her DDS from Tehran University and a master’s in periodontology and later immigrated to Canada in 2011 with her husband and two children.

“After graduating from Dal in 2016, she returned to the Faculty to teach in the Division of Periodontology in 2017 and also worked in private practice in Halifax,” the school wrote. “She loved Nova Scotia and her colleagues at Dal and described dentistry as ‘my career of passion all my life.'”

Mandieh Ghavi and Masoumeh Ghavi

RELATED: Boeing 737 Plane Bound for Ukraine Crashes in Iran, Killing All 176 People on Board

Newlywed couple Arash Pourzarabi and Pouneh Gorji and University of Toronto Ph.D. student Mojtaba Abbasnezhad were three other victims whose lives were sadly claimed in the tragedy.

Pourzarabi, 26, and Gorji, 25, who had recently tied the knot after graduating from the University of Alberta, were reportedly flying home to Canada following their wedding, according to NBC News.

On Thursday, Russ Greiner Lab, the place where Gorji worked, issued a statement on their Facebook page and confirmed the young couple’s death.

“Yesterday, we said goodbye to one of the most beloved members of our lab: Pouneh Gorji, and her husband Arash Pourzarabi,” the statement read. “Both were wonderful people and brilliant scientists. Our hearts are broken, but we will always cherish all the moments that we lived together. We will always remember you. Farewell, beloved friends.”

Along with the statement, the lab posted several photos from what appeared to be a memorial service for the pair.

Newlyweds Arash Pourzarabi and Pouneh Gorji

Eerily enough, Abbasnezhad, 27, joked about potentially not surviving his flight on Twitter just one day before the crash, likely due to the growing tensions between Iran and the U.S.

“I had predicted war at the time of my flight. Man, whatever experiences you have had with me, good or bad, have good thoughts about me,” the doctoral student tweeted.

Officials are continuing to investigate what caused the Ukraine-bound plane to crash in Iran, killing all 167 passengers and nine crew members who were on board.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko confirmed in a tweet on Wednesday that 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians, 10 Swedes, four Afghans, three Germans, and three British nationals died in the crash.

The flight left the Tehran International Airport around 6:00 a.m. local time, the airline confirmed to PEOPLE on Wednesday.

Plane crash

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said during a press conference that once the plane was landed in Kyiv, Ukraine, more than 130 passengers were expected to change planes and head to Canada.

In a statement to PEOPLE on Wednesday, Boeing said: “This is a tragic event and our heartfelt thoughts are with the crew, passengers, and their families. We are in contact with our airline customers and stand by them in this difficult time. We are ready to assist in any way needed.”

The crash came hours after Iran launched missiles at two military bases in Iraq that house U.S. troops, which prompted investigators to look into the possibility of a terrorist act, as well as if a missile shot down the jet, a collision occurred with another airborne object, or if an engine exploded — all theories that have been deemed preliminary.

According to Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization chief Ali Abedzadeh, the plane — which went down shortly after takeoff — was “on fire” and crashed while it was attempting to return to the airport, BBC reported. Abedzadeh added that the pilots had not made any distress calls before heading back to the airport.

Ukraine International Airlines, which operated the flight, told PEOPLE on Wednesday: “[An] investigation will be conducted with the involvement of the aviation authorities of Ukraine, Iran, representatives of the Boeing manufacturer, the airline, and the National Bureau of Air Accidents Investigation of Ukraine. The airline will inform about the progress of the investigation and the causes of the tragic event as soon as they are identified.”