Iranian President, Raisi Involved In A Helicopter Crash

A helicopter in the convoy of Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi was involved in “an accident” on Sunday, state media reported, without specifying if the president was on board.

“Some unconfirmed reports say that the helicopter carrying President Raisi has had an accident in East Azerbaijan province,” state television said, adding that rescue efforts were underway.

“The harsh weather conditions and heavy fog have made it difficult for the rescue teams to reach the accident site,” state TV said in an on-screen news alert.

According to some local media, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and local officials were travelling in the same helicopter as Raisi.

Raisi was visiting East Azerbaijan province on Sunday where he inaugurated a dam project in the company of his Azeri counterpart, Ilham Aliev, on the border between the two countries.

Raisi, 63, has been president of the Islamic Republic since June 2021.

The chief of staff of the Iranian military ordered the entire army and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to be put to use. More than 65 search and rescue teams, medical crews and drones were deployed to the area near Jolfa, a city on the border with Azerbaijan, some 375 miles north-west of Tehran.

But the rescue effort was hampered by thick fog and the arduous terrain. Searches using helicopters had to be called off when darkness fell.

“It is dark and it has started raining, but the search continues. Rescue teams have reached the area… however, the rain has created mud, making the search difficult,” a reporter told state TV.

The national broadcaster stopped its regular programming to show prayers being held for Mr Raisi across the country, while live coverage of rescue teams combing the mountains played in a corner of the screen.

The helicopter the officials were travelling in was a Bell 212 acquired by the Iranian military in the 1970s, during the last years of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s reign.

Iran operates a variety of helicopters – most dating to before the 1979 Islamic Revolution – and international sanctions have made it difficult to obtain spare parts for them.

Mr Raisi had been in Azerbaijan early on Sunday to inaugurate a dam with his counterpart Ilham Aliyev. After visiting one site, the president and his entourage took off in a convoy of three helicopters to inaugurate another when contact was lost with his aircraft.

“At around 1pm, the president left Tabriz to inaugurate two projects but the helicopter lost contact shortly after leaving,” said Mohsen Mansouri, the head of the search and rescue teams

Also on board the missing helicopter were the province’s Friday Prayer leader and the local governor.

“Three helicopters left Tabriz but, half an hour later, two of them lost contact with the one carrying the president,” the official said. “The army, IRGC, police, Red Crescent and everyone are looking for the helicopter. Progress is slow due to the weather conditions and the challenging terrain of the region.”

Mr Raisi (left) greets workers at the site of the Iran-Azerbaijan-constructed Qiz-Qalasi dam early on Sunday

The Iranian border forces said late on Sunday that they were close to the crash site, although the helicopter had still not been located.

An Iranian official has told state TV that brief contact was made with one of the passengers and one of the crew members after it crashed. However, Hossein Hatami, the representative of Kalibar, where the helicopter crashed, said that no such contact had been established with the passengers. “There is no information about any of the passengers inside the helicopter, and access to their mobile antennas has not been possible,” he said.

Iran’s cabinet, chaired by first vice-president Mohammad Mokhber, held an emergency meeting on Sunday night, after which the health minister and executive vice-president were instructed to travel to the area.

The crash comes at a time of widespread dissent within Iran. The country’s clerical rulers face international pressure over Tehran’s support for Russia in its war against Ukraine, as well as its nuclear programme. Tehran has recently begun enriching uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Iranian supreme leader who holds ultimate power in the country, sought to reassure citizens, saying there would be no disruption to state affairs.

“The people of Iran should not worry, there will be no disruption in the work of the country,” he said. “We hope that Almighty God will return the respected and honourable president and his companions to the arms of the nation. Everyone should pray for the health of this group of servants.”

The country’s presidential spokesman said Iran was going through a “difficult” situation.

“We are experiencing difficult and complicated conditions. It is the right of the people and the media to be aware of the latest news about the president’s helicopter accident,” Ali Bahadori Jahromi said. “In these moments, patience, prayer and trust in relief groups are the way forward.”

Culled from AP