TORONTO, ONT – The worst had passed, it seemed, and the United States and Iran no longer appeared poised at the edge of war.
“All is well!” President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday night, days after a U.S. drone strike killed Iran’s most powerful general, and Iran, after a barrage of missiles, had signaled it was stepping back from further escalation.
But 27 seconds before Trump’s tweet, commercial flight trackers lost contact with a Ukrainian International Airlines jet that had just taken off from Tehran’s main airport. On board were 176 people, including at least 138 passengers on their way to Canada and at least 63 Canadian citizens. The plane appeared to get hit in the air, then slammed into the ground.
Everyone on board died. They were students, newlyweds, doctors and parents. The youngest was a 1-year-old girl, Kurdia Molani, who was flying back with her parents to their home in the Toronto suburb of Ajax.
By late Thursday, Western leaders said that Iran had most likely shot down the jetliner with a surface-to-air missile — probably by accident. The loss of so many civilian lives instantly recast the U.S.-Iran confrontation, which had seemed to conclude with only limited bloodshed.
What began with a drone attack on Gen. Qassem Soleimani’s motorcade at the Baghdad airport had rippled outward until dozens of Iranian-Canadians, and dozens of Iranian students studying in Canada, were dead.
“The community is overwhelmed with mourning and sadness,” said Payman Paseyan, a prominent Iranian-Canadian in western Canada. He lost many friends on the flight.
Some in Canada blamed Trump for the disaster.
“This is insane. Sickening. Imagine having a family member on that plane,” said Rob Kent, a 42-year-old Toronto resident. “One man, and only one, is responsible for those deaths. And he will never face consequences for them."
But Paseyan wasn’t so sure.
“It takes two to tango,” he said. “It's not hard to see the downing as a result of the escalation between the two countries. However, Iran is responsible for its own military defense equipment. While it has the right to defend itself, as it should to protect its own people, it should also have the responsibility with that right to make sure their defensive systems aren't targeting civilian aircraft."
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has at times had a rocky relationship with Trump, was careful not to say the U.S. strike was responsible for what happened.
“I think it is too soon to be drawing conclusions or assigning blame or responsibility in whatever proportions," he told reporters.
But, he said, an accidental missile strike would compound the grief of so many people.
"My thoughts instantly went to how much harder this must make it for those families who are experiencing just a terrible amount of grief right now,” he said.
Many simply struggled to make sense of the disaster.
“If something like this happened as an accident, it’s much easier to take in than when you hear that maybe it got shot,” said Nina Saeidpour, a Calgary real estate agent whose friend Kasra Saati was among the victims. “We're just trying to figure out what happened."