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Helicopter Crash: No Survivors Found at Site of Iran President’s Aircraft


Rescuers discovered the helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, the foreign minister, and other officials on Monday. The helicopter had reportedly crashed the previous day in Iran’s mountainous northwest, but “no sign of life” was found, according to state media.


Pir Hossein Kolivand, the head of the Iranian Red Crescent Society, told state media that rescuers spotted the helicopter as the sun rose on Monday at a distance of about 2 kilometers (1.25 miles). He gave no further details, and the officials had been absent for more than twelve hours by then.

The incident occurs in the wake of Iran, led by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Raisi, launching an unprecedented drone and missile attack on Israel last month and enriching uranium to levels closer to weapons grade than before.

Iran has also faced years of mass protests against its Shiite theocracy over an ailing economy and women’s rights — making the moment that much more sensitive for Tehran and the future of the country as the Israel-Hamas war inflames the wider Middle East.

Raisi was traveling through the province of East Azerbaijan in Iran. About 600 kilometers (375 miles) northwest of Tehran, the capital of Iran, near the city of Jolfa, on the border with the country of Azerbaijan, was the scene of what state TV described as a “hard landing.” Later, state TV moved it closer to the village of Uzi in the east, but the information remained ambiguous.

The governor of Iran’s province of East Azerbaijan, Iran’s foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, as well as other officials and bodyguards, accompanied Raisi, according to the state-run IRNA news agency. While some local government representatives referred to the event as a “hard landing” or a “crash,” one official used the term “crash.”

Early Monday morning, Turkish authorities released what they described as drone footage showing what appeared to be a fire in the wilderness that they “suspected to be wreckage of helicopter.” The coordinates listed in the footage put the fire some 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of the Azerbaijan-Iranian border on the side of a steep mountain.

Footage released by the IRNA early Monday showed what the agency described as the crash site, across a steep valley in a green mountain range. Soldiers speaking in the local Azeri language said: “There it is, we found it.”

Shortly after, state TV in an on-screen scrolling text said: “There is no sign of life from people on board.” It did not elaborate, but the semiofficial Tasnim news agency showed rescuers using a small drone to fly over the site, with them speaking among themselves saying the same thing. The footage showed the tail of the helicopter and brunt debris all around it.

Hard-liners had urged the public to pray. State TV aired images of hundreds of the faithful, some with their hands outstretched in supplication, praying at Imam Reza Shrine in the city of Mashhad, one of Shiite Islam’s holiest sites, as well as in Qom and other locations across the country. State television’s main channel aired the prayers nonstop.

In Tehran, a group of men kneeling on the side of the street clasped strands of prayer beads and watched a video of Raisi praying, some of them visibly weeping.

“If anything happens to him we’ll be heartbroken,” said one of the men, Mehdi Seyedi. ”May the prayers work and may he return to the arms of the nation safe and sound.”

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 said they were being hampered by poor weather conditions, including heavy rain and wind. Rescuers could be seen walking in the fog and mist.

Khamenei himself also urged the public to pray.

“We hope that God the Almighty returns the dear president and his colleagues in full health to the arms of the nation,” Khamenei said, drawing an “amen” from the worshipers he was addressing.

However, the supreme leader also stressed the business of Iran’s government would continue no matter what. Under the Iranian constitution, Iran’s vice first president takes over if the president dies with Khamenei’s assent, and a new presidential election would be called within 50 days. First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber already had begun receiving calls from officials and foreign governments in Raisi’s absence, state media reported.

Hardliner Raisi, 63, who once oversaw the nation’s judiciary, is thought of as Khamenei’s protégé. Some observers have speculated that Raisi might succeed the 85-year-old leader in the event of Khamenei’s demise or resignation.

To officially open a dam with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, Raisi had traveled to the country’s border early on Sunday. This is the third dam on the Aras River that the two countries have constructed. The visit took place in spite of the tense relations between the two countries, which stem from a gun attack on the Azerbaijani Embassy in Tehran in 2023 as well as Azerbaijan’s diplomatic ties with Israel, which the Shiite theocracy in Iran sees as its primary regional foe.

Iran flies a variety of helicopters in the country, but international sanctions make it difficult to obtain parts for them. Its military air fleet also largely dates back to before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. IRNA published images it described as Raisi taking off in what resembled a Bell helicopter, with a blue-and-white paint scheme previously seen in published photographs. Footage from the crash site matched that paint pattern.

Raisi won Iran’s 2021 presidential election, a vote that saw the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic’s history. Raisi is sanctioned by the U.S. in part over his involvement in the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988 at the end of the bloody Iran-Iraq war.

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 Mideast, like Yemen’s Houthi rebels and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Meanwhile, 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 not wearing a hijab, or headscarf, to the liking of authorities. The monthslong security crackdown that followed the demonstrations killed more than 500 people and saw over 22,000 detained.

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

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