Helicopter carrying Iranian President Raisi crashes, prompting massive search operation, local media reports | CNN (2024)

Helicopter carrying Iranian President Raisi crashes, prompting massive search operation, local media reports | CNN (1)

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi attends a meeting with Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev on the Azerbaijan-Iran border on May 19, 2024.

CNN

Rescuers are searching in the dark for a helicopter that crashed while carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in northern Iran on Sunday, according to Iranian officials. Raisi’s condition and that of Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian, who was also on board, remain unknown as overnight temperatures drop in the mountainous area.

The aircraft came down in the early afternoon in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province, sparking a massive search effort, including military drones and dozens of rescue teams, state media reported.

Officials have said they were able to make contact with some of the passengers aboard the helicopter and Turkish drone has located a heat source. But despite hours of searching, emergency crews have not been able to reach the crash site amid reported fog and extreme cold.

A regional commander for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps announced late on Sunday night that they had detected the exact location of the crash after receiving a signal from the helicopter and the mobile phone of one of the crew, IRNA reported.

“Military forces are heading to the location and hope to have some good news,” the commander reportedly said.

The incident comes at a sensitive time domestically for Tehran and seven months into Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza that has sent tensions soaring throughout the Middle East and brought a decades long shadow war between Israel and Iran out into the open. Last month Iran launched an unprecedented drone and missile attack on Israel — its first ever direct attack on the country — in response to a deadly apparent Israeli airstrike onIran’s consulate in Damascus.

Iran’s hardline leadership has faced significant challenges in recent years, convulsed by youth-led demonstrations against clerical rule and grim economic conditions. Iranian authorities have launched a widening crackdown on dissent since nationwide protests broke out over the 2022 death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran’s notorious morality police.

Helicopter carrying Iranian President Raisi crashes, prompting massive search operation, local media reports | CNN (2)

In a still from a video released by Tasnim News, search and rescue teams continue their search in East Azerbaijan, Iran.

Raisi’s official Instagram account and state television have urged Iranians to pray for the president and his entourage.

Iranian Supreme LeaderAyatollah Khamenei, the country’s top leader, echoed in the call in a video statement, saying, “Everyone should pray for the health of this group of servants. … People of Iran, do not worry. There will be no disruption in the work of the country.”

Poor weather complicates search for helicopter

The accident occurred as Raisi and Amir Abdollahian were returning from a ceremony for an opening of a dam on Iran’s border with Azerbaijan, IRNA reported. Seven other people were also in the helicopter, according to the IRGC-run media outlet Sepah, including a local imam, the provincial governor, security staff and the helicopter’s crew.

Two other helicopters in the same convoy of dignitaries arrived at their destinations safely, officials said.

Iranian authorities have identified a 2-kilometer radius for the crash site and believe the accident was “not severe” after speaking with two people who were traveling on the downed helicopter, Iranian Vice President for ExecutiveAffairsMohsen Mansouri told Iranian semi-official FARSnews.

“Three helicopters were on this route, but the helicopter carrying the President lost contact with the other two. They began searching and established contact with one of the helicopter’s occupants and the flight crew, indicating the incident was not severe. The Red Crescent, FRAJA, Army, and IRGC rescue teams have arrived and divided tasks,” he said.

Helicopter carrying Iranian President Raisi crashes, prompting massive search operation, local media reports | CNN (3)

A screen grab from an IRIB via Tasnim News video shows Raisi on a helicopter in Iran on May 19.

The crash site is believed to be somewhere in the Dizmar Forest area between the villages of Ozi and Pir Davood, according to IRNA, which reported that residents in the northern Varzeqan region said they heard noises from the area.

Poor weather and low visibility are complicating rescue efforts in the rural area. Iranian Minister of Health, Bahram Eynollahi, has warned that the crash site is very foggy, making it difficult for rescuers to search. “We have set up treatment facilities. We are now in the area and all rescue forces are busy searching,” Eynollahi said on state TV Sunday. “We have deployed all medical facilities, including emergency medicine, surgery and ambulance.”

A deployment of helicopters in the area has already failed due to the weather, Iranian military officials said.

“The helicopters of the 6th combat base of Tabriz Air Force arrived in the Varzeqan area according to the order to carry out relief operations,” theCommander of Iran’s 6th Air Force Base said. “These helicopters, along with the rescue team, were sent to the helicopter accident area of the president’s convoy from the early hours. Unfortunately, the operation failed due to unfavorable weather conditions.”

Helicopter carrying Iranian President Raisi crashes, prompting massive search operation, local media reports | CNN (4)

A helicopter carrying Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi takes off, near the Iran-Azerbaijan border, May 19, 2024.

Iraq and Azerbaijan have offered assistance to Iran in the ongoing search operation. In response to requests from Iranian authorities, the European Union said it was activating its satellite mapping service, and Turkey said it would send a night-vision search and rescue helicopter, plus 32 mountaineer search and rescue personnel.

Russia has also pledged to send two planes with 50 professional mountain rescuers to help reach the crash site on Monday, IRNA reported.

US President Joe Biden has been briefed on the incident, according to the White House.

Who is President Raisi?

Raisi’s powers as President aredwarfed by those ofSupreme LeaderAli Khamenei, who is the final arbiter of domestic and foreign affairs in the Islamic Republic.

But Raisi is widely seen as a figure in which the Iranianclericalestablishment has heavily invested – and even as a potential successor to the 85-year-old Khamenei.

Raisi’s electionin 2021was heavily engineered by the Islamic Republic’s political elite so that he would run virtually uncontested. He seemed to be made in the image of the 1979 Islamic Revolution’s ideals, a guarantor of its continuation even as many chafed under its ultraconservative rules. A year into his tenure, he brutally quashed a youth-led uprising over repressive laws, such as the compulsory hijab, and continued to stamp out dissent in its aftermath.

Unlike his predecessor, the moderate former President Hassan Rouhani, there has been no daylight between Raisi and Khamenei.This leftno doubt in many Iranians’ minds that he has been groomed to be elevated to the Supreme Leadership.

Any disruption to this vision of succession could sow further chaos in a country already buckling under significant economic and political strain.

Helicopter carrying Iranian President Raisi crashes, prompting massive search operation, local media reports | CNN (5)

In this photo from ShahraraNews, pilgrims pray for Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi at Imam Reza Shrine in the city of Mashhad, Sunday, May 19, 2024.

Correction: This story has been updated to correct that the reported incident took place in East Azerbaijan Province of Iran.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Helicopter carrying Iranian President Raisi crashes, prompting massive search operation, local media reports | CNN (2024)
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