Helicopter carrying Iran’s president crashes

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A helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi crashed on Sunday in a mountainous area in the country’s north-west, according to Iranian officials who did not provide details of his condition.

State media showed video footage of a convoy of ambulances struggling to make their way through thick fog up a mountain road. According to Tasnim news agency, the crash site has been located in Arasbaran Forest near the border with Azerbaijan.

Pir-Hossein Kolivand, the head of Iran Red Crescent, said that 40 rapid response teams had been deployed to search the area. Attempts to locate the crash site with drones failed earlier in the day due to bad weather and the rugged terrain, he said.

Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian was also on board the helicopter as part of Raisi’s entourage, returning from a day trip to the country’s northern neighbour, Azerbaijan, where they inaugurated a dam.

Helicopter Iranian president’s convoy crashes-2

Interior minister Ahmad Vahidi said the president’s helicopter had a “hard landing” in a mountainous and foggy region, where communication was “somewhat difficult”. Further information would be provided when rescue teams reached the accident site, he said.

Rescue workers had not reached the crash site by nightfall, with darkness, rain and cold temperatures further complicating efforts to locate the aircraft. State media was broadcasting prayers on Sunday evening, urging Iranians to pray for their president.

Iran requested from neighbouring Turkey a helicopter equipped with night vision equipment to aid in the rescue operations, Ankara’s disaster management agency Afad said on Sunday. The agency added that 32 Turkish search and rescue personnel had been dispatched to the area.

There have also been offers of aid from other nations including Saudi Arabia and Russia. The European Union has activated its emergency satellite mapping service to help Iran with the search.

Earlier in the day, some members of the president’s entourage who were on board the helicopter, managed to make contact, raising hopes that the incident might result in minimal casualties, Tasnim said. Two other helicopters that had flown to Azerbaijan and back carrying other ministers and officials “have safely reached their destination”, it said.

The helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi takes off in Azerbaijan
The helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi takes off in Azerbaijan. It later crashed in Iran’s Arasbaran Forest © Hamed Haghdoust/IRNA/AP

Should Raisi be incapacitated, first vice-president Mohammad Mokhber will take over his duties.

Raisi was elected in 2021 in a vote with a record low turnout in the country’s history. He is expected to seek re-election next year, and his name has emerged in political circles as a top candidate to succeed Iran’s supreme leader, 85-year-old Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The president has shown unconditional loyalty to the ayatollah and maintained close relations with the Revolutionary Guards. After decades of tense relations between Iran’s presidents and the supreme leader over the extent of their powers, Raisi has been the first to end these tensions.

Khamenei on Sunday called on the nation not to worry, reassuring citizens that there would be “no disruptions” in the country’s affairs or security. He added that authorities were doing their best to ensure the government’s responsibilities were managed with order and efficiency. 

He also asked everyone to pray for the safe return of the “revered president and his companions”.

Additional reporting by Adam Samson

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