Helicopter Carrying Iranian President Crashes
Helicopter Carrying Iranian President Crashes

By Web Staff

A helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, the country’s foreign minister, and other officials crashed in the mountainous northwest reaches of Iran on May 19, sparking a massive rescue operation in a fog-shrouded forest, state media have reported.

Mr. Raisi was traveling in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province. State TV said the helicopter had a “hard landing” near Jolfa, a city on the border with the nation of Azerbaijan, some 375 miles northwest of the Iranian capital of Tehran. Later, state TV put the site farther east, near the village of Uzi, but details remain contradictory.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi places his hands on his heart as a gesture of respect to the crowd during the funeral ceremony for the victims of a bomb explosion in the city of Kerman, Iran, on Jan. 5, 2024. (Vahid Salemi/AP Photo)

Traveling with Mr. Raisi were Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, the governor of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province, and other officials and bodyguards, the state-run IRNA news agency reported. One local official used the word “crash,” but others referred to either a “hard landing” or an “incident.”

Rescue crews haven’t yet located the crash site, Pir-Hossein Koulivand, head of Iran’s Red Crescent Society, told Iranian state TV IRINN.

Local media earlier reported that the commander of the East Azerbaijan Revolutionary Corps told reporters that they have found the location of the crash by tracing a signal from the helicopter and the cellphone of one of the occupants. He said personnel have been deployed to the area.

Mr. Koulivand said the crews are still searching the area around where the signals were detected.

Officials have said that rescue efforts have been hampered by bad weather conditions.

Neither IRNA nor state media offered any information on Mr. Raisi’s condition in the hours afterward. However, some officials urged the public to pray for him.

Reactions

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds ultimate power with a final say on all domestic and foreign policies, said there would be no disruption to state affairs.

Iranian state media stated that bad weather was the cause of the crash and was complicating rescue efforts. The chief of staff of Iran’s army ordered all of the resources of the army and the Revolutionary Guard to be put to use in the search-and-rescue operations.

The national broadcaster had earlier stopped all of its regular programming to show prayers being held for Mr. Raisi across the country and, in a corner of the screen, live coverage of rescue teams deployed on foot in the mountainous area in heavy fog.

“The esteemed president and company were on their way back aboard some helicopters, and one of the helicopters was forced to make a hard landing due to the bad weather and fog,“ Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said in comments aired on state TV. ”Various rescue teams are on their way to the region, but because of the poor weather and fogginess it might take time for them to reach the helicopter.”

IRNA called the area a “forest,” and the region is known to be mountainous as well. State TV aired images of SUVs racing through a wooded area and stated that they were being hampered by poor weather conditions, including heavy rain and wind.

A rescue helicopter tried to reach the area where authorities believe Mr. Raisi’s helicopter was, but it couldn’t land because of heavy mist, emergency services spokesman Babak Yektaparast told IRNA.

Long after the sun had set, Iranian regime spokesman Ali Bahadori Jahromi acknowledged that “we are experiencing difficult and complicated conditions” in the search.

“It is the right of the people and the media to be aware of the latest news about the president’s helicopter accident, but considering the coordinates of the incident site and the weather conditions, there is ‘no’ new news whatsoever until now,” he wrote on the social platform X, formerly known as Twitter. “In these moments, patience, prayer, and trust in relief groups are the way forward.”

Mr. Khamenei himself also urged the public to pray.

Rescue teams’ vehicles near the site of the incident of the helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Varzaghan, Iran, on May 19, 2024. (Azin Haghighi, Moj News Agency via AP)

Some neighboring countries expressed concern and offered assistance in any rescue.

The White House said President Joe Biden had been briefed on reports about the crash. The European Union offered emergency satellite mapping technology to help Iran with the search.

Raisi’s Tenure

Mr. Raisi, 63, is a hard-liner who formerly led the country’s judiciary.

He had been on the border with Azerbaijan early on May 19 to inaugurate a dam with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev. The dam is the third one that the two countries have built on the Aras River. The visit came despite chilly relations between the two governments, including over a gun attack on Azerbaijan’s Embassy in Tehran in 2023 and Azerbaijan’s diplomatic relations with Israel, which Iran’s Shiite theocracy views as its main enemy in the region.

IRNA published images it described as Mr. Raisi taking off in what resembled a Bell helicopter, with a blue-and-white paint scheme previously seen in published photographs.

Mr. Raisi became president in the 2021 presidential election, a vote that saw the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic’s history. Mr. Raisi is sanctioned by the United States, in part over his involvement in the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in the years after the 1979 revolution.

During Mr. Raisi’s tenure, Iran was able to enrich uranium at nearly weapons-grade levels and hamper international inspections. Iran has armed Russia in its war on Ukraine, as well as launched a massive drone-and-missile attack on Israel amid Israel’s war against the Hamas terrorist group in the Gaza Strip. It also has continued arming proxy terror groups in the Mideast, such as Yemen’s Houthis and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Mass protests in the country have raged for years. The most recent involved the 2022 death of Mahsa Amini, a woman who had been earlier detained over allegedly violating the country’s strict hijab, or headscarf, requirements. The regime’s monthslong violent suppression that followed the demonstrations resulted in more than 500 people killed and more than 22,000 detained.

In March, a United Nations investigative panel found that Iran was responsible for the “physical violence” that led to Ms. Amini’s death.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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