Iran’s president found dead at helicopter crash site – state media

By 1news.co.nz and is republished with permission

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, the country’s foreign minister and others have been found dead at the site of a helicopter crash, after an hourslong search through a foggy, mountainous region of the country’s northwest, state media reported. Raisi was 63.

Iran’s State TV gave no immediate cause for the crash in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province.

Among the dead was Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, 60.

Earlier, Iranian state television said “no sign of life” was seen at the crash site of a helicopter that was carrying Raisi and others. The site was across a steep valley and rescuers had yet to reach it, state media reported at the time.

As the sun rises in the region, rescuers saw the helicopter from a distance of some 2km, the head of the Iranian Red Crescent Society, Pir Hossein Kolivand, told state media.

He did not elaborate and the officials had been missing at that point by over 12 hours.

Rescuers said earlier this afternoon they found the helicopter that had apparently crashed in the mountainous northwest reaches of Iran.

The incident comes as Iran under Raisi and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei launched an unprecedented drone-and-missile attack on Israel last month and has enriched uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels.

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 travelling in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province. State TV said what it called a “hard landing” happened near Jolfa, a city on the border with the nation of Azerbaijan, some 600km northwest of the Iranian capital, Tehran.

Later, state TV put it farther east near the village of Uzi, but details remained contradictory.

Travelling with Raisi were Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, the governor of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province and other officials and bodyguards, the state-run IRNA news agency reported.

One local government official used the word “crash,” but others referred to either a “hard landing” or an “incident.” Neither IRNA nor state TV offered any information on Raisi’s condition in the hours afterwards.

Early Monday morning (local time), Turkish authorities released what they described as drone footage showing what appeared to be a fire in the wilderness that they “suspected to be the wreckage of the helicopter.”

The coordinates listed in the footage put the fire some 20km south of the Azerbaijan-Iranian border on the side of a steep mountain.

Hard-liners urged the public to pray for him. 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.”

In comments aired on state TV, Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said: “The esteemed president and company were on their way back aboard some helicopters and one of the helicopters was forced to make a hard landing due to the bad weather and fog.”

“Various rescue teams are on their way to the region but because of the poor weather and fogginess it might take time for them to reach the helicopter.”

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.

A rescue helicopter tried to reach the area where authorities believe Raisi’s helicopter was, but it couldn’t land due to heavy mist, emergency services spokesman Babak Yektaparast told IRNA.

Late in the evening (local time), Turkey’s defence ministry announced that it had sent an unmanned aerial vehicle and was preparing to send a helicopter with night vision capabilities to join the search-and-rescue efforts.

Long after the sun set, Iranian government spokesman Ali Bahadori Jahromi acknowledged that “we are experiencing difficult and complicated conditions” in the search.

“It is the right of the people and the media to be aware of the latest news about the president’s helicopter accident, but considering the coordinates of the incident site and the weather conditions, there is ‘no’ new news whatsoever until now,” he wrote on the social platform X.

“In these moments, patience, prayer and trust in relief groups are the way forward.”

Khamenei himself also urged the public to pray. 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.

Raisi, 63, a hard-liner who formerly led the country’s judiciary, is viewed as a protégé of Khamenei and some analysts have suggested he could replace the 85-year-old leader after Khamenei’s death or resignation.

Raisi had been on the border with Azerbaijan early Sunday (Tehran time) to inaugurate a dam with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev. The dam is the third one that the two nations built on the Aras River.

The visit came despite chilly relations between the two nations, including over a gun attack on Azerbaijan’s Embassy in Tehran in 2023, and Azerbaijan’s diplomatic relations with Israel, which Iran’s Shiite theocracy views as its main enemy in the region.

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.

Who is President Ebrahim Raisi?

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 US 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.

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