San Diego student and 2 family members killed in Ukrainian jetliner crash

Iran plane crash
Wreckage from a jetliner that crashed on the outskirts of Tehran. Victims included a student at Alliant International University in San Diego.
(Ebrahim Noroozi / Associated Press)

A San Diego college student, her sister and their mother were among the 176 people who were killed Wednesday when a Ukrainian jetliner went down shortly after taking off from an airport in Tehran.

U.S. authorities said it appeared that Iran targeted the jetliner by mistake. After initial denials, Tehran acknowledged Saturday that an Iranian surface-to-air missile had unintentionally brought down the plane.

The college student was identified as 23-year-old Sara Saadat, who was seeking a doctoral degree in clinical psychology at Alliant International University, a small private school.

The crash also killed her sister Saba Saadat, who was studying science at the University of Alberta, and their mother, Shekoufeh Choupannejad, a physician, according to the Edmonton Journal.

The two couples had just gotten married and were on their way home to Canada.

Jan. 9, 2020


The news caused shock waves on the Alliant campus, which is about to end its winter break.

“We extend our deepest sympathies to family and friends of Sara Saadat,” Alliant said in a statement Friday. “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.

“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.”

Campus officials said Friday that faculty members were too upset to talk about Sara Saadat’s life but that the school would put together a memorial service.

Saadat was in her first year of studies at Alliant. Her sister was planning to go to medical school after she finished her undergraduate work.

Their mother was an obstetrician and gynecologist who worked in north Edmonton, Canada.

Daniel Ghods-Esfahani, a family friend, told the Edmonton Journal that the two sisters “were best friends. I’ve never seen a bond between siblings or friends as close as they had. Given the tragedy of the situation, I take some comfort from the fact that, in that last moment, the three of them were together.”

Suggestions that Iran shot down a Ukrainian airliner are a grim echo of the accidental shootdown of an Iranian jet by the U.S. over 30 years ago.

Jan. 10, 2020

The crash also killed Arash Pourzarabi, 26, and Pouneh Gorji, 25. The couple married in Iran on Jan. 1 and were returning to the University of Alberta, where they were graduate students.

More than 60 Canadians were killed in the crash.

At a memorial service in Toronto late Friday, Patty De Frutos paused to remember Alvand Sadeghi, a co-worker who died in the crash.

“It’s just crazy how destiny works to steal the greatest,” De Frutos told the Guardian newspaper. “We all know he was the best out of all of us.”


Robbins writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.