Iran | Hopes dwindle for Iranian president after helicopter crash

(Tehran) The Iranian authorities have almost no hope of finding survivors on Monday morning after locating the helicopter carrying President Ebrahim Raïssi which crashed on Sunday in north-west Iran.

“At this stage, there are no signs that the helicopter passengers are alive,” state television said.

About fifteen hours after the disappearance of the aircraft, the debris of the helicopter was spotted on the side of a mountain against which it crashed, according to a photo of the location published by the media.

“The president’s helicopter has been located. Emergency services approach crash site […] The situation is not good,” Red Crescent leader Pirhossein Koolivand said around 6 a.m. (10:30 p.m. Eastern).

The search operations, carried out by 73 rescue teams, are taking place in “difficult conditions” in a mountainous area immersed in rain and thick fog.

The prospect of discovering alive the 63-year-old president, elected in 2021, and the other passengers, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs, diminished overnight. The helicopter disappeared early Sunday afternoon.

The progress of research is closely followed internationally, particularly in the United States and Russia, while Iran is a major player in the Middle East, a region shaken by the war in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas.

“We are closely monitoring the information,” said a diplomatic spokesperson in Washington, while China said it was “very worried”.

At the request of Tehran, Moscow announced that it would send around fifty rescue operations specialists, all-terrain vehicles and a helicopter to Iran. President Vladimir Putin spoke with Iran’s ambassador to Russia, according to the official Tass news agency.

The main authority of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called on Iranians to “pray” and “hope that God will bring the president and his companions back into the arms of the Nation”.

“The Iranian people should not worry, there will be no disruption in the administration of the country,” he assured.


Research teams

Several Gulf countries (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait) provided support to Tehran and offered to help in the research, as did Syria and Iraq.

Turkey deployed 32 rescue workers and a night vision drone which was operational overnight, while the European Union announced that it had activated, at Iran’s request, “the CopernicusEMS rapid response mapping service” to support Tehran in the research.

“Hard landing”

President Raïssi was on board the plane in the company of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, the governor of the province and the main imam of the region, according to the Irna agency.

The aircraft, a Bell 212, was part of a convoy of three helicopters carrying the presidential delegation, two of which landed safely in Tabriz, the large city in the northwest, from where Mr. Raïssi was to reach Tehran.

Interior Minister Ahmed Vahidi raised the possibility of a “hard landing” for the presidential apparatus, without giving details.

State television broadcast images of faithful praying for the health of the president in several mosques, including that of the holy city of Mashhad (north-east), Mr. Raïssi’s birthplace.

The government held an emergency meeting on Sunday and ministers were dispatched to Tabriz, according to the government spokesperson.

The emergency meeting was chaired by the first vice-president, Mohammad Mokhber, who would take over as president in the event of Mr. Raisi’s death, pending the holding of a presidential election within 50 days.


Mr. Raisi visited the province of Eastern Azerbaijan on Sunday, where he notably inaugurated a dam in the company of the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliev, on the border between the two countries.


Ebrahim Raïssi inaugurated a dam in the company of the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliev.

During a joint press conference, he once again supported Hamas against Israel. “We believe that Palestine is the first question of the Muslim world,” he declared in particular.

Iran launched an unprecedented attack on April 13 against Israel, with 350 drones and missiles, most of which were intercepted with the help of the United States and several other allied countries.

Mr. Raïssi, who has the title of Ayatollah, has presided over the Islamic Republic for almost three years.

Considered an ultraconservative, he was elected on June 18, 2021 in the first round of a vote marked by a record abstention for a presidential election and the absence of strong competitors.

Always wearing his black turban and wearing a long religious coat, he succeeded the moderate Hassan Rouhani, who beat him in the 2017 presidential election.

Mr. Raïssi emerged strengthened from the legislative elections held in March, the first national election since the protest movement which shook Iran at the end of 2022 following the death of Mahsa Amini, a young woman arrested for non-compliance with the code strict dress code of the Islamic Republic.

Born in November 1960, Mr. Raïssi spent most of his career in the judicial system, notably being prosecutor general of Tehran and then prosecutor general of the country.

Mr. Raïssi is on the American blacklist of Iranian officials sanctioned by Washington for “complicity in serious human rights violations”, accusations dismissed as null and void by the authorities in Tehran.

Aged 60, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was appointed head of Iranian diplomacy by Mr. Raïssi in July 2021.

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