Iran's President Raisi feared dead as rescue officials locate helicopter crash site

"We can see the wreckage and the situation does not look good," says head of Iran's Red Crescent

AFP | Reuters
May 20, 2024
Irans President Raisi feared dead as rescue officials locate helicopter crash site
The wreckage of Iranian President's Ibrahim Raisi's crashed helicopter can be seen on a mountain in this photo.—XShaykhSulaiman

All passengers are feared to have succumbed in the helicopter crash carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisiand the country's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, Reuters reported citing an Iranian official on Monday.

"President Raisi's helicopter was completely burned in the crash [...] unfortunately, all passengers are feared dead," the official said.

"We can see the wreckage and the situation does not look good," the head of Iran’s Red Crescent, Pirhossein Kolivand, told state TV.

The helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his foreign minister crashed on Sunday, as it was crossing a mountain terrain in heavy fog, an Iranian official told Reuters.

Iranian state media said bad weather caused the crash and was complicating rescue efforts. State news agency IRNA said Raisi was flying in a US-made Bell 212 helicopter.

Rescue teams fought blizzards and difficult terrain through the night to reach the wreckage in East Azerbaijan province in the early hours of Monday.

Besides the president and FM, Governor of East Azarbaijan Province Malek Rahmati, Tabriz Friday prayer leader Hojjatoleslam Al Hashem and a number of others were also on board the crashed helicopter, IRNA said.

Anadolu news agency, in an X post, said that a Turkish drone identified a source of heat suspected to be the helicopter's wreckage and had shared the coordinates of the possible crash site with Iranian authorities.

Rescue vehicles are seen following a crash of a helicopter carrying Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi, in Varzaqan , East Azerbaijan Province, Iran, May 19, 2024. — Reuters

State TV also quoted an official as saying at least one passenger and one crew member had been in contact with rescuers.

The state TV said bad weather was the cause of the crash and was complicating rescue efforts. The chief of staff of Iran's army ordered all the resources of the army and the elite Revolutionary Guard to be put to use in search and rescue operations.

Dark of the night and rain made it difficult for the rescue teams to carry out a search operation but the search continued, it reported.

State TV later reported that the helicopter had been found, but Iran's Red Crescent denied any such reports.

IRNA had earlier stopped all its regular programming to show prayers being held for 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.

Sunday's accident happened in the mountainous protected forest area of Dizmar near the town of Varzaghan, said the official IRNA news agency.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev visit the Qiz-Qalasi dam on the Azerbaijan-Iran border, May 19, 2024. — Reuters

Raisi was visiting East Azerbaijan province where he inaugurated a dam project together with his Azeri counterpart, Ilham Aliyev, on the border between the two countries.

His convoy included three helicopters, and the other two had "reached their destination safely," according to Tasnim news agency.

The reformist Shargh daily also reported that "the helicopter carrying the president crashed" while two other helicopters landed safely.

Khamenei tells Iranians to 'not worry'

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds ultimate power with a final say on foreign policy and Iran's nuclear programme, sought to reassure Iranians, saying there would be no disruption to state affairs.

He urged Iranians on Sunday to "not worry" for the country after state media said a helicopter carrying Raisi had an accident.

"The Iranian people should not worry, there will be no disruption in the country's work," Khamenei said in a speech carried on state TV. "We hope that Almighty God will bring our dear president and his companions back in full health into the arms of the nation."

US State Dept closely watching Raisi incident

Soon after the reports of chopper crash involving Raisi, the US State Department is closely watching reports regarding the accident, a spokesperson said.

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

The Iranian leader took the reins of the country when the gulf nation was in the grip of a deep social crisis and an economy strained by US sanctions against Tehran over its contested nuclear programme.

Azerbaijan's Aliyev says his prayers are with Raisi

In response to the reports of helicopter crash, Azeri President Aliyev said he was profoundly troubled by news of the Iranian president's helicopter crash landing after bidding a friendly farewell to Raisi earlier in the day.

"Today, after bidding a friendly farewell to the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ebrahim Raisi, we were profoundly troubled by the news of a helicopter carrying the top delegation crash-landing in Iran," Aliyev said.

"Our prayers to Allah Almighty are with President Ebrahim Raisi and the accompanying delegation. As a neighbor, friend, and brotherly country, the Republic of Azerbaijan stands ready to offer any assistance needed."

Pakistan concerned over reports of Raisi accident

Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif expressed concern over the "distressing news from Iran".

PM Shehbaz's tweet. — X

"Waiting with great anxiety for good news that all is well. Our prayers and best wishes are with Hon. President Raisi and the entire Iranian nation," he wrote on X.

Meanwhile, President Asif Ali Zardari offered heartfelt prayers and good wishes for "well-being and safety" of his Iranian counterpart.

Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Qataroffer help in rescue efforts

Saudi Arabia expressed its support for Iran and said it was ready to provide any assistance required after a helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi crashed on Sunday.

The Saudi foreign ministry also said the kingdom was following reports about the crash with "great concern", according to the Saudi state news agency.

Neighbouring Iraq also offered Iran help in search and rescue efforts at the crash site.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohamed Shia al-Sudani "instructed the interior ministry, the Iraqi Red Crescent and other relevant authorities to offer the Islamic Republic of Iran the available resources to aid in the search for the Iranian president's aircraft," government spokesman Bassem al-Awadi said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Qatariforeign ministry said in a statement that the Gulf state was ready to provide "all forms of support" for Iran's search efforts for Iranian officials.

Turkey 'saddened by Iran helicopter accident'

The Turkish Foreign Ministry said it was following developments in Sunday's Iran helicopter accident with sadness and hoping for the president's wellbeing, adding that action had been taken to provide all kinds of support to search and rescue activities.

"We hope that the Iranian officials, including Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian are safe and healthy," it said in a statement.

EC activates satellite mapping service to assist with search

The European Commission is activating satellite mapping service to aid search efforts after Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi's helicopter crashed, following a request for assistance from Iran, the European commissioner for crisis management said.

The European Commission's Copernicus Emergency Management Service provides mapping products based on satellite imagery.

Crisis management commissioner Janez Lenarcic said on X that the service was activating its "rapid response mapping service in view of the helicopter accident."