EXPLAINERNews

President Raisi’s helicopter crashes in Iran: What we know so far

A helicopter carrying Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi and the foreign minister crashed while travelling back from East Azerbaijan.

Video Duration 01 minutes 37 seconds 01:37By Al Jazeera StaffPublished On 19 May 202419 May 2024

The world is watching as Iran mobilises emergency crews to search for President Ebrahim Raisi, whose helicopter – which was travelling in a convoy – went down in a remote area near Jolfa in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province.

He was returning from Iran’s border with Azerbaijan, where he and the Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev had inaugurated a cooperative dam project, the latest sign of warming relations between the two countries. Twenty rescue teams and drones have been sent to the area where the helicopter came down.

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Information is slowly emerging on this incident, but here is what we know so far.

What happened?

Reports of a helicopter in the president’s convoy crashing first circulated on social media and were quickly picked up by local media. An initial report by the state-linked Mehr news website said Raisi had opted to travel to Tabriz by car due to the foggy weather conditions, and that he was safe.

The news was subsequently taken down after state television confirmed that the missing helicopter was carrying Raisi and the other officials. State television said the helicopter suffered a “hard landing”.

Who was in the helicopter?

Travelling with Ebrahim Raisi were Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Iran’s East Azerbaijan Province Governor Malek Rahmati, and Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Ale-Hashem, the representative of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to East Azerbaijan, according to state media.

Did all three helicopters disappear?

No, two of the three helicopters in the president’s convoy made it back safely to the city of Tabriz.

Energy Minister Ali Akbar Mehrabian and Housing and Transportation Minister Mehrdad Bazrpash were in the helicopters that made it back safely.

What’s the problem? Why can’t they find the helicopter passengers?

Rescuers were attempting to reach the site, state TV said, stating that in addition to tens of rescue crews, there were several ambulances and drones deployed in the search.

However, all efforts have been hampered by poor weather conditions, with heavy rain and fog reported with some wind.

News agency IRNA said the area is a “forest” that is difficult to access.

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi, left, meeting with his Azeri counterpart Ilham Aliyev at the inauguration of Qiz Qalasi, the third dam jointly built by Iran and Azerbaijan on the Aras River [Iranian Presidency/AFP]

How are people feeling? What are they saying?

After the news of President Raisi’s helicopter disappearing was confirmed, calls went out for Iranians to pray for his safety and the safety of the people with him in the aircraft.

The government has not made many statements as there are still many details that are not clear.

Was something wrong with his helicopter?

There is still no confirmation on what type of helicopters were carrying Raisi and his entourage. They could have been army helicopters or Red Crescent aircraft.

Iran operates a range of helicopters, but many date back to before the country’s 1979 Islamic revolution. Due to the sanctions and financial constraints, Iran has had difficulties purchasing spare parts, making maintenance a challenge.

Who’s in charge in Iran while the president is missing?

Vice President Mohammad Mokhber, 69, will assume power in Raisi’s absence or while he recovers, should that be needed.

The head of the trustees charged with overseeing the execution of Ayatollah Khamenei’s orders since 2007, Mokhber holds a PhD in international law.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, left, and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev visit the Qiz Qalasi dam on May 19, 2024 [Iran’s Presidency/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via Reuters]

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies