Helicopter carrying Iran’s Ebrahim Raisi crashes in mountains Rescuers struggle with search operation to find president and f. minister because of poor weather conditions

Helicopter carrying Iran’s Ebrahim Raisi crashes in mountains

Rescuers struggle with search operation to find president and foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian because of poor weather conditions

TEHRAN   (  Web  News  )  

A helicopter carrying the Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, and his foreign minister crashed on a fog-covered mountainside, with search and rescue teams rushing to the area as state media called for nationwide prayers.

State TV reported that the helicopter had been found on Sunday evening, well after dark, and quoted an official as saying that at least one passenger and one crew member had been in contact with rescuers.

Still, details were scant and sometimes conflicting, including Iranian Red Crescent rescuers later saying no helicopter had been found.

With no published information of whether the president was alive or dead, the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – who holds ultimate power in the Islamic Republic – sought to reassure the nation.

Iranians should not worry or be anxious, he said, adding: “No disruption will occur in Iran’s state affairs.”

An Iranian official, however, had told earlier Reuters that the lives of Raisi and the foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian – who was travelling with him – were “at risk following the helicopter crash”. They added: “We are still hopeful, but information coming from the crash site is very concerning.”

Ebrahim Raisi sits in a chair next to the Iranian flag

Iranian state media blamed bad weather for the crash and said it was complicating rescue efforts. “It is dark and it has started raining, but the search continues. Rescue teams have reached the area … however, the rain has created mud, making the search difficult,” a local reporter told local media.

The state-run IRNA news agency broadcast footage of an Iranian Red Crescent team walking up a slope in thick fog, as well as live footage of crowds of worshippers reciting prayers in the holy shrine of Imam Reza in the city Mashhad, Raisi’s home town.

IRNA called the area a “forest” and state TV aired images of SUVs racing through a wooded area.

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

More than 40 rescue teams using search dogs and drones were sent to the site, state media said, and the chief of staff of Iran’s army ordered all the resources of the army and the elite Revolutionary Guards to be deployed.

The helicopter carrying Raisi takes off near the Iran-Azerbaijan border. Photograph: Ali Hamed/IRNA News Agency Handout/EPA

“The esteemed president and company were on their way back on board some helicopters and one of the helicopters was forced to make a hard landing due to the bad weather and fog,” Iran’s interior minister, Ahmad Vahidi, said in comments aired on state TV. “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.

“The region is a bit [rugged] and it’s difficult to make contact. We are waiting for rescue teams to reach the landing site and give us more information.”

Raisi ad been in Azerbaijan early on Sunday to inaugurate a dam with the country’s president, Ilham Aliyev. The dam is the third that the two nations have 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 Shia theocracy views as its main enemy in the region.

Iran owns a number of helicopters, but international sanctions make it difficult to obtain parts for them. Most of its military air fleet pre-dates the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The incident was initially reported as a “hard landing” but later described as a crash.

Countries in the region sent their well-wishes and offers of support, including Iraq and Qatar, but also Saudi Arabia, which has long been a regional foe. The Saudi foreign ministry was following reports about the crash with “great concern”, the country’s state news agency reported.

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said he was saddened to hear of the accident. “I convey my best wishes to our neighbour, friend and brother Iranian people and government, and I hope to receive good news from Mr Raisi and his delegation as soon as possible,” Erdogan said in a post on social media platform X.

The EU offered emergency satellite mapping technology to help Iran with the search while a spokesperson for state department of the US, a global adversary of Iran, said: “We are closely following reports of a possible hard landing of a helicopter in Iran carrying the Iranian president and foreign minister.”

Raisi, 63, is a hardliner who formerly led the country’s judiciary. He is viewed as a protege of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and some analysts have suggested that he could replace the 85-year-old leader.

Ebrahim Raisi
He won Iran’s 2021 presidential election, for which the turnout was the lowest in the Islamic Republic’s history. Raisi is under sanctions 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 supplied arms to Russia in its war on Ukraine, and launched a substantial drone and missile attack on Israel. It continues to arm proxy groups in the Middle East, such as Yemen’s Houthi rebels and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Iran’s vice-president Mohammad Mokhber would take over presidential duties in the event of Raisi’s death, according to Iran’s constitution. Presidential elections should be arranged within 50 days, the constitution says.