Friends and Winnipeg’s Muslim community at large are mourning the loss of 3 international university students who passed away after a car crash Thursday morning. The three were returning from a trip to witness the northern lights.
A vehicle traveling north on Highway 7 collided with a southbound vehicle around 10km south of Arborg, Man., a town around 115km north of Winnipeg, around 6:30 a.m Thursday, RCMP said.
The driver of the northbound car, a 53-year-old woman, sustained serious injuries, and was sent to hospital in Winnipeg. However, the 3 men in the southbound car died on the spot. They were Al Numan Aditta, Aranoor Azad Chowdhury and Risul Badhon.
“They were some of the best people I had ever come across. True mentors,” said friend Fardeen Zareef.
“For the entire community, it’s a major loss. We’re all in mourning right now because it’s a connected community and everyone knew them.”
Two of the students were 23 years old, but police officers didn’t have an age for the third. They were all from Bangladesh and students at the University of Manitoba.
Chowdhury was a positive 3-year student pursuing statistics, Badhon was a hard-working 3-year student taking accounting and supply chain at the Asper School of Business, and Aditta was a “sweetheart” studying agriculture, Zareef said.
The 3 men had packed up and rode north with 3 other vehicles to try and see the aurora borealis, Zareef added. On their way back, two vehicles had driven ahead, whereas the car with the 3 students and the fourth car stopped to refuel.
Chowdhury, Aditta, and Badhon continued on while the individuals in the fourth car decided to eat breakfast first, he stated.
When the persons riding in the fourth car resumed their journey, they drove past the accident scene. One car was flipped over, Zareed said.
Reports about the incident came about 10:30 a.m. Thursday and the families were immediately informed, said Abdul Ahad, president of the Muslim Student Association at the University of Manitoba.
“It took a little time to actually digest the whole situation, because it was a bit unbelievable, [and] in Bangladesh it [was] nighttime,” said Ahad.
The crash is still under investigation, but alcohol is not a factor in this one, RCMP said.
Zareef met the 3 young men in Winnipeg in 2018 because they ran with the same crowd, according to him.
“Over time, they became my closest friends — almost like brothers to me and this community.”
Badhon and Chowdhury were the same age as Zareef, but Aditta was “like an older brother” and the best cook he knows, Zareef added.
“We used to call him Chef Pablo,” he said, noting that Aditta’s nickname was Pablo.
The four of them had intended on graduating together this spring, assuming the coronavirus pandemic would not hinder the event, Zareef said.
Ahad, also from Bangladesh, had met the 3 students in Winnipeg from 2016 to 2017. He likes playing soccer and usually competed in recreational tournaments with Chowdhury, Aditta and Badhon, and that’s how they got to be familiar with each other, Ahad said.
International students tend to stay together as they don’t have other folks like their parents around for support. Aditta, Badhon and Chowdhury, in their own ways, supported other members of the community and became “really respected and really loved,” Ahad added.
“They were some of the best faces in our community. They were the example,” said Zareef.
“That is why our community and people who knew them are feeling their loss.”
The Manitoba Islamic Association, Manitoba’s largest Muslim organization, is handling the funeral arrangements, providing supports, including grief counseling, to any person who needs it.
The University of Manitoba Muslim Students Association is seeking to plan a remembrance ceremony for the 3 students and many other students who have passed away recently. The institution will additionally be speaking with the university administration Friday to discuss organizing a vigil, Ahad said.