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Ryerson alumni killed in Flight 752 downing are remembered for their hard work and kindness
Mahsa Amirliravi’s and Mohsen Salahi’s love story began on the fifth floor of the Ryerson library.
One of Salahi’s favourite spots during his time at Ryerson was the school’s library. He’d spend long hours there, studying with his older brother Meisam on the sixth floor or just spending time with his friends on the fifth floor. He met his future wife, Amirliravi, on the fifth floor, while the two were pursuing their undergraduate degrees in engineering at Ryerson.
The spot was so important to them that their engagement video opens in the bookshelves of the fifth floor. The black and white video transforms into full colour when Salahi and Amirliravi meet, reaching for the same book, their engineering rings visible on each of their pinky fingers. Throughout the video, just like in life, they are inseparable.
Amirliravi and Salahi died together on Jan. 8 in the downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, which killed 176 people. The plane had just taken off in Tehran when Iranian armed forces shot two missiles at it, claiming the plane turned toward a sensitive military site of its Revolutionary Guard. Iran’s president blamed the downing on “human error,” saying that the plane was seen as a threat.
The plane was carrying 57 Canadian citizens, 82 Iranian citizens, 11 Ukrainians, as well as a few more people from Sweden, Afghanistan, Britain and Germany. Many of the Iranian passengers had dual citizenship with Canada.
Salahi and Amirliravi had been visiting Iran over the winter break to see family and for a vacation. When they boarded Flight 752 that evening, they were coming home for the start of a new semester at Cestar College in Toronto, where they had both been teaching for the past three years, predominantly in the construction project management program. Salahi’s final phone call was with his older brother, Meisam.
“He didn’t pick up the first call,” Meisam Salahi told the Ryersonian, explaining how his brother answered the second phone call but was in a rush, asking Meisam to tell him quickly what he wanted, because he was walking onto the plane. Worried about the escalating tensions in the region due to the Iranian missile attacks on an American airbase in Iraq earlier that day, Salahi had called his younger brother to confirm that he was still coming back to Canada that night.
“He said, ‘Yeah, yeah, I’m walking into the plane right now… I’ll see you tomorrow.’”
It was the last time the two spoke. Meisam Salahi went to bed that night thinking he’d see his brother the following day at Cestar College, where he also teaches. It was an anxious night for Salahi; he stayed up late watching the news and couldn’t sleep well, waking up every five minutes. A series of 4 a.m. text messages alerted him that something was wrong. A friend told him to call his mother.
Salahi said he knew someone had died, and at first, he thought it was his father and tried to comfort his mother over the phone. Between sobs, she was able to choke out Mohsen’s name.
“And then I just collapsed on the floor,” Salahi said. He turned on the news to confirm what his mother had been unable to say: that the flight carrying his brother and sister-in-law had crashed.
“The whole building came down on my head,” Salahi said. “It just broke my bones into pieces.”
The downing of Flight 752 has devastated the Iranian diaspora and the academic community in Canada — at least 19 Canadian universities lost students, professors and researchers in the tragedy. Amirliravi’s and Salahi’s deaths have affected two Toronto schools, Cestar College of Business, Health and Technology, and Ryerson University. The two had deep roots at Ryerson, having graduated in 2014 with bachelor’s degrees in civil and mechanical engineering, respectively. Upon Salahi’s brother’s advice, the couple returned to Ryerson to complete their master’s degrees, graduating in 2018.
“On behalf of Ryerson University, we extend our deepest sympathies to Mahsa and Mohsen’s families, friends and colleagues, and to everyone who has suffered loss in this terrible tragedy,” said Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi in a statement on Jan. 9.
Hesam Akbari remembers meeting Salahi during his first class at Ryerson, calculus one, which is shared by all undergraduate engineering students. It was Monday, the first week of school and only 10 people showed up to the 8 a.m. class in the 10 Dundas East movie theatre; Salahi was one of them. While their professor struggled to write equations on an old overhead projector in front of a nearly empty class, Akbari and Salahi bonded over a shared amusement of the situation.
Akbari said that he had been frustrated that he woke up early and commuted so far for an empty class but Salahi was characteristically positive.
“He made a joke that we should bring some popcorn to make the whole thing more enjoyable,” said Akbari, adding that Salahi always looked on the bright side and balanced out his own sarcastic nature. The two became close friends over the next 11 years and ended up working together at Cestar College as well.
Akbari said Salahi was a hard worker, always early and would never brag, choosing instead to let his actions and accomplishments speak for themselves. He said both Amirliravi and Salahi were goal-oriented and always working towards building their future. They had recently bought a house in Richmond Hill, Ont.
“For them, they’re gone,” Akbari said. “They never got to the point of really enjoying their life the way they were supposed to.”
Both Salahi and Amirliravi were accomplished students. Akbari said that Amirliravi was always trying to challenge herself and took classes outside of her field. It was a quality that Ryerson engineering professor Habiba Bougherara saw first-hand, having taught both Salahi and Amirliravi in a graduate course in 2018.
Bougherara remembers how proud Salahi was when he introduced Amirliravi to her as his wife. She had taught Salahi previously during his undergrad and remembered noting how excited the normally reserved Salahi had been.
Bougherara described her course as hard and said that it is normally taken by mechanical or aerospace engineering students, not civil engineering students like Amirliravi.
“She was really outstanding,” said Bougherara, explaining that Amirliravi excelled and achieved a better grade than many who had a background in the course’s materials, including her husband, who got an A- compared to Amirliravi’s A.
When Bougherara teased Salahi about his wife outperforming him, saying that it was clear that Amirliravi was better than him, she said he just smiled. “He was so much in love with his wife.”
Friends describe Amirliravi as more outgoing than Salahi, who was often reserved and could come across as shy. Both Salahi’s brother and Akbari said that she helped encourage Salahi to travel more.
“She really was full of life,” said Akbari, adding that Amirliravi would take any chance she got to travel and experience a new culture. The couple had recently gone to Paris and were always trying new restaurants in Toronto and posting photos of food to Instagram.
Bougherara said that the two were “100 per cent compatible,” had similar personalities and shared a kindness that they demonstrated through all their actions.
The couple’s longtime friend, Pari Boreshnavard, remembers Amirliravi as fun, optimistic and outgoing.
A few weeks ago, Boreshnavard went through her old texts and messages with the couple.
“There was nothing negative,” she said. “Most of the time we were forwarding funny videos on Instagram to each other. So, most of our talks were about funny stuff.”
She vividly remembers one day, about five years ago, when all of them lived in Calgary. Boreshnavard and her husband, Hamid Batenipour, were already living in Alberta when Amirliravi and Salahi moved there for work. That day, Salahi’s car got towed and the couple were sitting at the police station, waiting for paperwork to process. This was when Boreshnavard got a call from Amirliravi, telling her that their car was towed.
Boreshnavard said she immediately responded with something like, “I’ll be right there to help you.”
Amirliravi said that was not why she was calling. “If you don’t have any plans, come to our home tonight and party,” Amirliravi had said.
Boreshnavard says that kind of response is very like her friend. She was always cheerful and positive.
The two of them met at Amirliravi’s birthday party about 10 years ago.
“Right away, we clicked and we became friends,” Boreshnavard said. Following that day, their professional and personal lives became very intertwined. They even had a joke that they should notify the other of what’s going on in their lives, because the same thing will probably happen to them as well.
Salahi had turned 31 on Dec. 1 and Amirliravi was three days away from her 30th birthday when they died in the plane downing.
“We became friends on her birthday and we lost her on her birthday,” Boreshnavard said. “It was a very sad day for me.”
Sina Tehrani was good friends with Salahi in their university days at Ryerson. They often played soccer together.
“We had lots of fun and lots of great moments,” he said.
Tehrani added that Salahi’s death has had a significant impact on his well-being.
“I’m so sad,” he said, adding that this has had an impact on his personal and business lives. “It’s a tragedy for all of us.”
Tehrani owns a UPS store in Aurora, Ont. He said friends and customers have come into his work with flowers and condolences since his friend’s death.
Shortly before Amirliravi and Salahi left for Iran, they attended a housewarming party thrown by Boreshnavard and her husband.
At the party, there was another couple that had booked the same flight, but with a return date four days later.
“And Mahsa and Mohsen never came back,” Boreshnavard said.
Akbari said the series of events that led to the couple being on Flight 752 and the plane’s downing was like a “butterfly effect.” The plane was delayed an hour before takeoff and, according to Akbari, the couple wouldn’t normally take that flight. Akbari said that Salahi and Amirliravi usually flew home from Iran on Turkish Airlines, connecting through Turkey instead of Ukraine, and typically returned to Toronto from long trips earlier, in order to adjust to time differences before returning to work.
When Akbari learned that the plane had been shot down instead of crashing, as originally reported, he said his shock and sadness turned to anger. “Nothing makes sense about this flight,” he said.
The couple’s death has made a significant impact on their very tightly-knit circle of friends, colleagues and family.
Michael Vourakes, director of Cestar College, was the couple’s boss and said Salahi and Amirliravi should be remembered by all the lives they changed in Canada.
“All our students are international,” Vourakes said. “They’re coming for a new life, a better life, and I think Moh and Mahsa helped shape a lot of those lives.”
For his part, Meisam Salahi wants people to know that his brother cared about everyone.
“Whoever met him, I have a story about this person,” said Meisam Salahi, adding that his brother would constantly tell him about the lives of the people he met. “If anyone is willing to come to me, if they met him one time, I have a story for them.”
There was one person Mohsen Salahi did not tell his brother about immediately, though: Amirliravi.
Meisam Salahi remembers his brother asking to borrow his car to meet with friends, but later stumbling across him with Amirliravi, when the couple first started dating. While Salahi might have been shy talking about the relationship with his older brother at first, his friend Hesam Akbari said Salahi and Amirliravi were serious about each other from the beginning.
After meeting in Ryerson’s library, the two were constantly together. When they were students, if Amirliravi had a late class, Salahi would often stay on campus for several hours so that they could take the subway home together. When they were teachers, Amirliravi would make a point of spending time with Salahi in between classes, even if it was only for a few minutes.
“They were so happy together,” said Meisam Salahi, who has found comfort in one thing since his brother and sister-in-law died.
“What makes me happy, and makes everyone happy, is that they’re gone together.”