Search continues after helicopter carrying Iran’s president Raisi crashes

Officials say dozens of rescue teams dispatched after helicopter suffers ‘hard landing’ in East Azerbaijan province.

Iranian officials say extensive search operations are continuing amid poor weather conditions after a helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi suffered a “hard landing”, state television reported.

Iranian state media said the crash occurred on Sunday near Jolfa in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province, in the north of the country.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei expressed concern over the situation in a meeting with families of Revolutionary Guard Corps personnel and urged the country to pray for Raisi and others who were in the helicopter.

“We hope that God returns the honourable president and his companions to the arms of the nation,” he said. He also urged Iranians not to worry and stressed that there would be “no disruption” in governance.

Raisi was returning from a visit to neighbouring Azerbaijan, where he had travelled to inaugurate a dam alongside the country’s President Ilham Aliyev, when the incident took place.

State-linked media said three helicopters were in the Iranian president’s convoy, and the two others made it back safely.

Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, East Azerbaijan Governor Malek Rahmati, and Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Ale-Hashem, the representative of the Iranian supreme leader to the province, were in the same helicopter as Raisi, state media reported.

A map of the site of a helicopter crash involving Iran's President Raisi
[Al Jazeera]

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

People who were with the president inside the helicopter managed to make an emergency call, according to the semiofficial Tasnim News Agency.

Tasnim reported that the call increased hopes that the incident can be concluded “without fatalities”.

It remains unclear exactly what caused the “hard landing”, or whether any of the passengers in the helicopter have been hurt.

Rescue teams dispatched

Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi told state television that various rescue teams were trying to reach the location of the crash, but it might take some time due to fog and bad weather conditions.

Vahidi confirmed that radio contact was made with the helicopter, but offered no further details, and suggested communication lines had been cut.

The Iranian military chief, Major-General Mohammad Bagheri, said later on Sunday that “all the facilities, equipment and capacities of the army, the army corps and the police command should be used to provide relief and search for the helicopter of the president and his companions”.

Government news website IRNA said the president’s helicopter is believed to have crashed in the Dizmar Protected Area, a forested and mountainous zone.

“Now it’s foggy, it’s rainy, and the authorities are saying that this bad weather is going to continue until [Monday] night,” Al Jazeera’s Resul Serdar reported from the Iranian capital, Tehran.

“This is going to be quite a challenging task for these rescue teams that are trying to reach the helicopter that was carrying President Ebrahim Raisi,” Serdar said.

Iran's Ebrahim Raisi and Azerbaijan's President
Raisi (left) and Azerbaijan’s Aliyev visit the Qiz-Qalasi dam on the Azerbaijan-Iran border, May 19 [Iran’s Presidency/WANA/Handout via Reuters]

The Iranian Red Crescent said it deployed more than 40 separate teams to the region where the incident took place, Serdar also reported.

There has been no confirmation on what type of helicopter was carrying the president and his team.

Iran operates a variety of helicopters, but decades of sanctions have made it difficult to purchase new aircraft or obtain parts.

Many of the military aircraft currently in service in Iran date back to before the country’s 1979 revolution.

James Bays, Al Jazeera’s diplomatic editor, said “Iran’s aviation industry has had a horrendous record”, with nearly 2,000 Iranians killed in plane crashes since 1979.

“And that’s in part due to the fact that they can’t get the equipment they need to service their planes,” Bays explained.

‘Feeling of uncertainty’

As information continued to trickle in about the incident, a spokesperson for the US State Department said the United States was “closely following reports of a possible hard landing of a helicopter in Iran carrying the Iranian president and foreign minister”.

“We have no further comment at this time,” the spokesperson said, as reported by US media outlets.

Charles Michel, president of the European Council, also said in a social media post that he was “monitoring the situation closely”.

Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs extended “best wishes to the brotherly Iranian people” and said it hoped Raisi and other Iranian officials involved in the crash “are safe and sound”.

The Turkish Emergency Authority also said it was sending vehicles and search-and-rescue experts after Iran requested assistance.

Back in Tehran, political analyst Abas Aslani of the Centre for Middle East Strategic Studies said “a feeling of uncertainty” is hanging over the Iranian capital.

“There are questions and everybody is waiting to hear what exactly has happened,” Aslani told Al Jazeera.

“As time goes on, hopes are decreasing because the conditions are getting much worse and it’s getting darker.”

People watch TV amid news of the Iranian president's helicopter crash
People follow news of the crash of the helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, on a TV in a shop in Tehran, Iran, May 19 [Majid Asgaripour/WANA via Reuters]
Source: Al Jazeera