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Helicopter carrying Iran’s president suffers ‘crash:’ State TV


Helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi leaves site as one of the helicopters in his convoy crashed after the inauguration of a dam on the border along with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in Jabrayil district of Azerbaijan on May 19, 2024. 

Islamic Republic News | Anadolu | Getty Images

A helicopter with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on board suffered a “crash landing” on Sunday, state media reported, with weather conditions complicating rescue efforts.

Raisi’s condition was unclear, according to state news reports, which also aired prayers for his safety. Late Sunday afternoon, Iran’s Vice President Mohsen Mansouri reported that two people from the helicopter flight had made contact with the rescue team. It was unknown if Raisi was one of those two passengers.

As the search commenced, Iranian state media reported the location of the helicopter crash had been identified.

The commander of the East Azerbaijan Army said that a signal from the helicopter and a cellphone belonging to one of the crew members at the accident site was received “minutes ago.”

“Right now, we are leaving with all the military forces to the area in question, and I hope to give good news to the people,” the commander said.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi looks on during a press conference concluding his appearance at the United Nations General Assembly, in New York City, U.S., September 20, 2023. 

Shannon Stapleton | Reuters

At least 40 rescue teams, including drones and search dogs, have been deployed, but harsh weather and heavy fog in the area were making it difficult for them to reach the site, state media said.

Eight ambulances have been dispatched to the crash site and fog was preventing air rescue, it added.

Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, was also traveling in the helicopter, along with East Azerbaijan’s governor, Malik Rahmati, and Raisi’s security detail, it said. State TV IRIB said the helicopter belonged to the Iranian Red Crescent, which Iran’s Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said was part of a larger convoy. Their condition was also unknown.

“Various rescue groups are moving towards the site, but due to the fog and bad weather, it may take time to reach the area,” Vahidi said in comments aired on state media.

The officials were returning from the border with the country of Azerbaijan — in the northwest of Iran, some 375 miles from the capital of Tehran — where Raisi was inaugurating a dam on the Aras river with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev. Initially, reports put the incident near the city of Jolfa, but later said it was farther east near the village of Uzi. Details remain contradictory.

“Azerbaijan stands ready to offer any assistance needed,” Aliyev said in a post on X. “We were profoundly troubled by the news of a helicopter carrying the top delegation crash-landing in Iran.”

State media showed Red Crescent rescuers moving through dense fog with only a few meters of visibility, and said the helicopter is believed to have crashed in a rural forest.

Citizens follow the news after a helicopter in the Iranian President Raisi’s convoy reportedly crashed, in Tehran, Iran on May 19, 2024.

Fatemeh Bahrami | Anadolu | Getty Images

With no clarity on Raisi’s condition, worried Iranians began offering prayers, with dozens gathering in the city of Qom, a holy city for Shiite Muslims, state media showed. Raisi’s Instagram page also posted a story asking people to pray for him.

Although Raisi is the elected president and leads the government, he still answers to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who serves as the head of state.

In case of Raisi’s death, Iran’s First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber will be next in line for the presidency after receiving a nod from Khamenei. A new president then must be elected in 50 days.

The Qiz Qalasi Dam is the third dam jointly built by Iran and neighboring Azerbaijan and took almost two decades to complete, according to state media.

Medical and rescue teams from Iranian town of Verzegan arrive at the accident site after one of the helicopters in Iranian President Raisi’s convoy crashed following the inauguration of a dam on the border along with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in Jabrayil district of Azerbaijan on May 19, 2024. 

Azin Haghighi | Anadolu | Getty Images

While Iran flies a range of helicopters, international sanctions have made it difficult for Tehran to obtain the required parts for them. Most of the helicopters operated by the military date back to before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Raisi, 63, is himself under sanctions by the U.S. over his involvement in the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988 at the end of the bloody Iran-Iraq war.

He was re-elected in 2021, during an election that saw the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic’s history. A hard-liner, Raisi formerly led the country’s judiciary and is viewed as a protégé of Khamenei, and a likely contender to the throne.

The death of Mahsa Amini in police custody two years ago triggered a wave of protests across the country that mushroomed into the largest challenge to the theocratic regime since its founding in 1979. The government rounded up protesters in a violent crackdown that killed hundreds of people.

In an interview with NBC News last year, Raisi defended the government’s response, warning that those who try to sow instability in the Islamic Republic would pay a “big cost.”

Under Raisi, Iran now enriches uranium at nearly weapons-grade levels and hampers international inspections. Iran has armed Russia in its war on Ukraine, as well as launched a massive drone-and-missile attack on Israel amid its war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. It also has continued arming proxy groups in the Middle East including Yemen’s Houthi rebels and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

The Associated Press contributed.



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