Accessibility links

Breaking News

Part One: Dr. Hamed Esmaeelioun: Ukrainian Flight Crash Survivor Speaks

Dr.Hamed Esmaeelioun

"That plane has crashed into our homes, time and again. It is still falling every night, and we cannot get out of this tragedy. A crime hit us that will never leave anyone alone. I have read a lot of books, I have seen a lot of movies, but I do not remember any book or any movie capable of describing what happened and what is going on."

This is the story of an Iranian-Canadian Toronto-based dentist, Hamed Esmaeeilion, Dr. Esmaeelioun's wife, Parisa, 42, and nine-year-old daughter, Reera, perished when a Ukrainian plane was shot down on the morning of January 8 by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps’ missiles outside Tehran.

The catastrophe killed 176 people on board, plus a seven-month-old baby named "Hugo" who died in his mother's womb.

Speaking to Radio Farda, Hamed Esmaeelioun, 43, recounts the untold details of the moments that collapsed like a terrible nightmare on the lives of the survivors of the flight victims.

Frustrated, Esmaeelioun believes that there is no other way to seek justice but to take the doomed flight case to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

Hamed Ismailiun: I wondered why the roof did not fall on us from the screams and the anger that everyone had and still has. As if we (the survivors of the victims) were also on that plane, and we still are, and when they announced that [the IRGC missiles had shot down UIA's passenger plane], it was as if we all crashed again.

Radio Farda: Mr. Esmaeelioun, how did you find out about the tragedy the night you were waiting for your wife and daughter to return home and that they would not return?

Esmaeelioun: Like everyone else, I saw the news, and since I had obtained their flight tickets, I no longer had to inquire, and I already knew what had happened. It was January 7. You remeber that the Islamic Republic had attacked American bases [in Iraq]. Like everyone else, I was worried and trying to find my wife and daughter at the [Tehran's Imam Khomeini international] airport. Unfortunately, my wife's cell phone had no roaming. When I managed to have her whereabouts, she had checked in ten minutes earlier and gone inside the departure hall. I talked to Parisa's sister, who said they checked in ten minutes ago, and everything was normal there, and the flight was not canceled.

Nevertheless, I did not give up and followed the flight. I saw that the flight took off at 5:15 Tehran time. I was following it on the website of Kyiv's Airport. Many families like me did. Tehran Airport does not allow people to follow the flights. Kyiv airport offered the facility, but it seemed to be on automatic mode. At 6:12, when they shot down the plane, I saw it somewhere near the border, so I said to myself, 'the plane had left the border.' Two hours later, I realized what had happened.

Radio Farda: Then what happened?

Hamed Esmaeelioun: It was the scariest and worst night of my life. When I saw too many missed calls from Iran, I guessed what had happened. Anyway, I checked and checked all news. It was an arduous night. At that moment, I decided to return to Iran and see what had happened. Perhaps most importantly, I wanted to know what had happened to my wife and child. I wanted to see my mother-in-law and my mother. It was a feeling that forced me to see them immediately. Otherwise, I would never be able to forgive myself.

Therefore, I got a ticket an hour later, and I was at the airport on January 8 at 2 p.m., precisely when I was supposed to go there and bring them home. But I was on the way to get their bodies home.

Radio Farda: And at that time, you could not go to Iran.

Hamed Esmaeelioun: Ultimately, I could, but it took me 72 hours. I remember crying all the way to the airport. I could not see what was going on around me. People looked like ghosts to me. I arrived at the Toronto Airport. As soon as I got on the plane, I told the hostess that my wife and daughter were on the [doomed UIA PS757] flight last night. It [the man who lost his wife and daughter in a plane crash] became my identity for 72 hours, and maybe for a lifetime.

I remember the flight attendant took me to a corner and changed my seat to condole me. I could not close my eyes. It was just weeping and in disbelief that continues. I waited for seven to eight hours at Frankfurt airport [for a connecting flight].

I remember the friendly manner of the airport staff. And I think I had my first interview there, and I did not even know [how to be an interviewee].

People were crying along with us. I was with Javad Soleimani, Alireza Qandchi, Salomeh Tahmasebi, and Amir Passavand. We had lost ten, in total.

The plane was heading to Tehran. While over Turkey, it was reported that [President] Trump had said the plane had been shot down. Minutes later, the pilot said we had to return to Frankfurt Airport for security reasons. We returned and spent the night there. Again one of the most horrible nights of life passed, and the next afternoon, I flew to the Republic of Azerbaijan. They had given us two options, either going to Qatar or Azerbaijan. I decided to go to Azerbaijan and said that I could go by land if there were no flights to Iran. I was there for a few hours, and once again, I got on a plane.

The people were very kind and sympathetic until we arrived in Tehran. I think it took 72 hours to reach Iran.

Radio Farda: For three days, all authorities of the Islamic Republic and the local media lied. How did you feel when they officially announced that the IRGC missiles shot down the plane?

Esmaeelioun: I had to go to Sari, Parisa's hometown, and I think I arrived there at 6:30 on Saturday morning. Half an hour later, the shameful news broke out, and they officially admitted that the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) had shot down the UIA's passenger plane.

Up to this day, I have kept that feeling to myself, feeling rage and rage and rage. That plane has crashed into our homes, time and again. It is still falling every night, and we cannot get out of this tragedy. A crime hit us that will never leave anyone alone. I know many [victims'] families seeking help from therapists. They take medicines. I have also seen therapists several times. We went to public meetings. We talked. There were private meetings in Canada, but they could not be described at all. I have read a lot of books, I have seen a lot of movies, but I do not remember any book or any movie capable of describing what happened and what is going on.

On the third day, they admitted shooting down the plane. I was at Parisa's mother's house. My mother and brother were also there. Parisa's mother, her brother, and sister, and close and distant relatives were present. I wondered why the roof was not falling over us by our screams and rage. Those screams and anger still are with us today. As if we were on that plane and still are. And when they took responsibility for the tragedy, it was as if we all crashed again.

Radio Farda: After three days of lying, they said it was unintentional. How did that make you feel?

Hamed Esmaeelioun: The Islamic Republic's behavior is predictable if one had reviewed its past. In all murder and massacres cases that the Islamic Republic had been involved, they have initially lied, covered up, and denied. However, there had been few cases such as "Political Chain Murders" where, after a while, they had taken "some responsibility."

Here, in UIA's tragedy, it has happened again. After three long days, they came forward and claimed responsibility, admitting that 'yes, we did it.' But, immediately after that, they showered the world with a barrage of distorted truth. They initiate a coordinated and systematic misleading process that has multiple targets, including the victims' families. It uses all tools available, such as state-officials, judiciary, intelligence and counterintelligence forces, press, radio, and TV, in its favor.

Iran--Dr. Esmaeelioun's wife, Parisa, 42, and nine-year-old daughter, Reera
Iran--Dr. Esmaeelioun's wife, Parisa, 42, and nine-year-old daughter, Reera

I have the names of maybe 50 to 60 people in my mind who have publicly lied about flight PS757. They have either lied or somehow had a hand distorting the news concerning the tragedy. And they are all high-ranking officials of the Islamic Republic. From [the Islamic Republic Supreme Leader] Ali Khamenei, who emerged the day after the downing, laughing while he knew about the tragedy. Yet, he talked about the [IRGC] missile attacks on US bases. Or look at [the IRGC Aerospace Force commander, Amir-Ali] Hajizadeh, who parrotted Khamenei, and three days later lied again. Look at [the Secretary of the Islamic Republic Supreme National Security Council, the IRGC Rear Admiral] Ali Shamkhani, [Foreign Minister, Mohammad] Javad Zarif, [the IRGC Chief Commander] Hossein Salami, [Chief of Staff for the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic, the IRGC Major General] Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, [Head of Iran's National Aviation Organization] Ali Abedzadeh, [Deputy Foreign Minister in charge of the case related to downing UIA plane] Mohsen Baharvand and [President] Hassan Rouhani, they all lied.

The job of all these people, who are at the top of a long list, becomes distorting the truth and how to leave the crisis behind. They started by presenting human error as responsible for downing the plane. Later, during the past year, they changed this claim three to four times. Immediately after the downing, they blamed Boeing's technical failure. Then they said it was a human error. Later in the summer, they talked about "setting up the [anti-air defense] device incorrectly," and recently, we hear that they are talking about a systematic error. They tried to muddy the water as much as possible so that no one could understand the real truth.