HALIFAX -- HALIFAX -- A leader of Nova Scotia's Iranian community says the five people with ties to the province who died in this week's jet crash outside Tehran represent a microcosm of the tremendous loss of potential being felt in towns and cities across Canada.

Ali Nafarieh, president of the Iranian Cultural Society of Nova Scotia, says the victims include four university students and one dentist who also taught at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

"Huge potential and huge assets -- it disappeared," Nafarieh said in an interview Thursday. "It's a big loss for Canada as well ... So many intellectuals."

Nafarieh, who teaches computer networking part-time at Dalhousie, said he got to know 30-year-old Masoumeh Ghavi after she was admitted to study in the university's internetworking program as a graduate student in September.

"She was full of energy," he said. "You couldn't believe how much energy someone can have."

Impressed with her information technology background, Nafarieh hired her to work part-time at his information technology firm, Halifax-based Hanatech Solutions.

"She brought a lot of energy to the company," he said. "She changed the atmosphere. Always a smile, a beautiful smile."

Nafarieh said Ghavi was on her way back to Halifax with her younger sister, Mahdieh, when the Ukrainian International Airlines jet they were travelling on went down in a ball of flames on Wednesday.

Mahdieh Ghavi, 20, was expected to start medical school at Dalhousie later this year, he said.

"To me, it's not just a disaster for the Iranian community .... But it is also a national disaster for Canada," he said.

At Saint Mary's University in Halifax, officials confirmed two students were listed on the jet's passenger manifest.

Maryam Malek and Fatemeh Mahmoodi were both students in the master of finance program, said Colin Dodds, the academic director of the program and the university's former president.

"I knew them very well," he said, noting he was teaching them between November and December and had stayed in touch with the pair during the holiday break.

The intense, 12-month program is aimed at helping students establish a career in the financial services sector.

"To celebrate the fact that it was the end of the first semester ... they were going home to see parents and family," Dodds said. "It's a huge loss."

He declined to reveal personal details about the women but confirmed both had exceptional academic credentials and business backgrounds before becoming top-notch students at Saint Mary's.

Malek was in her early 40s and Mahmoodi was in her early 30s. Both spoke three languages.

Another Halifax resident who died in the crash was Sharieh Faghihi, a dentist who had worked at Gladstone Dental Clinic since 2016.

"She was an absolute joy -- one of the kindest human beings," said LJ Turnbull, regional manager for Dentalcorp.

"She had a fantastic sense of humour and she was great with the patients .... She was friends with everybody on the team."

Turnbull, who spoke to Faghihi's family after the crash, said the dentist taught part-time at Dalhousie. A brief profile on a Dalhousie website says Faghihi was married with two children.

Another colleague, dentist Ebrahim Kiani, said he first met Faghihi 25 years ago when she was head of the periodontics department at the Shiraz University of Medical Science in Iran.

"She was very kind, very generous with her knowledge and very skilled," Kiani said in an interview. "She was published in many journals ... She was a good mentor for me."

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said he was stunned by the news Thursday that the plane may have been hit by an Iranian missile.

"This is a tragedy of huge proportions when you think of ... the possibility that this plane may have been shot down -- it deepens the tragedy," he said.

"The people on this plane had been doing what most of us were doing over the holidays: trying to spend time with loved ones."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 9, 2020.