Iranian President 'missing' after helicopter crash, suspected wreckage found

State TV stopped all its regular programming to show prayers being held for Raisi across the country

By Reuters

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Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

Published: Sun 19 May 2024, 5:05 PM

Last updated: Mon 20 May 2024, 5:04 AM

A helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his foreign minister crashed on Sunday as it was crossing mountain terrain in heavy fog, an Iranian official told Reuters, and rescuers were struggling to reach the site of the incident.

The official said the lives of Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian were "at risk following the helicopter crash", which happened on the way back from a visit to the border with Azerbaijan in Iran's northwest.


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"We are still hopeful but information coming from the crash site is very concerning," the official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.


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

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, Anadolu news agency said on X.

The bad weather was complicating rescue efforts, the state news agency IRNA earlier reported. 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 the search and rescue operations.

The state media released footage of the weather conditions during the rescue mission.

“We are thoroughly searching every inch of the general area of the crash," state media quoted a regional army commander as saying. "The area has very cold, rainy, and foggy weather conditions. The rain is gradually turning into snow."

Neighbouring countries expressed concern and offered assistance in any rescue. The White House said US President Joe Biden had been briefed on reports about the crash. Turkey said it had assigned a drone, a helicopter, vehicles and a rescue team after a request by Iranian authorities. The European Union offered emergency satellite mapping technology.

State TV 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.

Raisi, 63, was elected president in 2021, and since taking office has ordered a tightening of morality laws, overseen a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests and pushed hard in nuclear talks with world powers.

In Iran's dual political system, split between the clerical establishment and the government, it is the supreme leader rather than the president who has the final say on all major policies.

But many have seen Raisi as a strong contender to succeed his 85-year-old mentor, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has strongly endorsed Raisi's main policies.

Raisi's victory in a closely managed election in 2021 brought all branches of power under the control of hardliners, after eight years when the presidency had been held by pragmatist Hassan Rouhani, who negotiated a nuclear deal with Washington.

However, Raisi's standing may have been dented by widespread protests against clerical rule and a failure to turn around Iran's economy, hamstrung by Western sanctions.

Raisi had been at the Azerbaijani border to inaugurate the Qiz-Qalaisi Dam, a joint project.

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