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San Diego student’s family sues Ukrainian airline over Iran missile attack

Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-900ER (Flyuia412/Wikimedia Commons)

The family of a San Diego college student whose plane was struck by a missile while flying over Iran has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the Ukrainian airline, saying it should have known the dangers of operating in the airspace.

The lawsuit, filed in San Diego federal court Thursday, comes days short of the two-year anniversary of the Jan. 8, 2020, crash that killed Sara Saadat and 175 other passengers, many with Canadian ties.

Saadat, 23, was a clinical psychology doctoral student at Alliant International University, a small, private school in Scripps Ranch. She bought her tickets for Ukraine International Airlines in San Diego for the trip to visit family in Iran.

She was ticketed to return to San Diego to start the spring semester, with stops along the way in Kyiv, Ukraine, and Canada. But minutes after leaving the Tehran airport, the plane was struck by the surface-to-air missile.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps later admitted to firing two missiles, saying the aircraft was misidentified as a “hostile target” and unintentionally targeted. Canadian authorities, who are helping Ukraine investigate the attack, called the explanation plausible but also said Iranian officials have not provided evidence of the claim.

The crash also killed sister Saba Saadat, who was studying science at the University of Alberta in Canada, and their mother, Shekoufeh Choupannejad, an obstetrician and gynecologist who worked in north Edmonton, Canada.

The lawsuit — filed by Saadat’s father, Addas Saadat, and brother, Armin Rei Collosi — argues that the airline decided to depart despite numerous warnings of unsafe skies and openly hostile aggression between Iran and other countries in the days and hours before the crash.

That includes a Jan. 3 U.S. military drone strike that killed Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani, followed by retaliatory rocket attacks near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and an Iraqi Air Force base.

The next day, President Donald Trump warned Iran that any further attacks on U.S. assets would result in 52 strikes — one for each of the American hostages taken by Iran in 1979. Iran responded a day later saying that it would no longer abide by the boundaries of its 2015 nuclear agreement with the U.S. and other powerful nations.

On Jan. 8, after the Iranian general was buried, 15 missiles launched from Iran struck two Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration issued an emergency no-fly order for all U.S. operators over Iran and Iraq immediately after, citing heightened military activity and political tensions which could cause “an inadvertent risk to U.S. civil aviation operations due to the potential for miscalculation or misidentification.”

The Ukranian airline, while not subject to the FAA order, should “have known of the clear and present danger” to Flight PS752 before taking off that day, the lawsuit alleges.

The flight crew “should have canceled the flight, and their failure to do so was negligent, or in the alternative, an act of willful misconduct which directly resulted in the deaths of the passengers and damages to the Plaintiffs,” the suit states.

The Ukraine International Airlines press office did not respond to an email seeking comment Thursday.

Attorneys for the family said the San Diego court has jurisdiction in the case partly because the father and brother live in California and Iran, and while the airline is headquartered in Kyiv, it has a base of operations in New York and flies frequently out of Los Angeles.

The lawsuit appears to be the first against the airline in the United States relating to the crash. Earlier this week, an Ontario, Canada, court announced an $84 million judgment against Iran to six families who lost loved ones in the crash.


© 2022 The San Diego Union-Tribune

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