Iran’s President Raisi killed in a helicopter crash: What we know so far

A helicopter carrying Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi and the foreign minister crashed while travelling back from East Azerbaijan.

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi has died alongside the country’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian after a helicopter carrying them and other officials crashed in a mountainous and forested area of the country in poor weather.

Raisi was returning from Iran’s border with Azerbaijan, where he and the Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev inaugurated a cooperative dam project, the latest sign of warming relations between the two countries.

Here is what we know so far:

What happened in Iran?

Raisi, a potential successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was killed alongside the country’s foreign minister and other officials in a helicopter crash.

According to local media reports, one of the three helicopters in a convoy made a “hard landing” due to complications arising from heavy fog in the northern region of the country.

The aircraft came down in the early afternoon on Sunday prompting an extensive search operation involving military drones and at least 40 separate rescue teams.

At first, people who were with the president inside the helicopter managed to make an emergency call, according to the semiofficial Tasnim News Agency. But, rescue teams battled for more than 10 hours as fog and snow impeded their progress in reaching the crashed site.

According to IRNA reports, on Sunday, a commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said 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 members.

Who else was on the helicopter?

Travelling with Ebrahim Raisi were Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, Iran’s East Azerbaijan Province Governor Malek Rahmati, and Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Ale-Hashem, the representative of Iran’s Leader Khamenei to East Azerbaijan, according to state media.

Where did the helicopter fall?

It fell in the Dizmar Protected Area, a wildlife corridor across the border with Azerbaijan.

State TV initially said the helicopter fell near Jolfa, a city on the border with Azerbaijan but later it put it farther east near the village of Uzi.

According to state television, Dizmar experienced sudden bad weather, leading to the accident.

A map of the site of a helicopter crash involving Iran's President Raisi

Did all three helicopters disappear?

No, two of the three helicopters in the president’s convoy made it back safely to the city of Tabriz.

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

What’s the latest on the ground?

In Iran, Khamenei assigned Vice President Mohammad Mokhber to assume interim duties.

The Iranian leader said that Mokhber will be required to work with the heads of legislative and judicial branches to prepare for presidential elections “within a maximum period of 50 days”.

Separately, a provincial official was quoted as saying a funeral procession will be held tomorrow in Tabriz and the bodies are headed there. The Red Crescent Society also announced that the search and recovery operation had formally ended.

On Monday morning, Iran’s Cabinet convened an emergency meeting. Following the meeting, the Cabinet released a statement expressing their commitment to following Raisi’s leadership path. IRNA shared a photo showing the empty chair where Raisi typically sat, vacant and draped with a black sash as a tribute to the late president.

Khamenei also announced five days of public mourning.

How do Iranians feel about the deaths, and what are they saying?

Foad Izadi, an associate professor of world studies at the University of Tehran, told Al Jazeera that Raisi’s death “in the line of duty” is a “shock to the nation”.

The news of President Raisi’s passing was declared at the mausoleum of Imam Reza in his native Mashhad, among other places. At night, crowds gathered to participate in a prayer vigil.

State-organised mournings are expected across the country for days. In Tehran, the main event will start at 4pm local (12:30GMT) at Valiasr Square.

Islamic prayers are being aired by Iranian state broadcasters between their news segments. Raisi’s X account recently shared verses from the Quran.

Who’s in charge in Iran while the president is missing or if he dies?

First Vice President Mokhber, 69, will assume power.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev visit the Qiz-Qalasi dam on the Azerbaijan-Iran border,
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, left, and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev visit the Qiz Qalasi dam on May 19, 2024 [Handout/Office of the President of Iran via Reuters]

Khamenei reassured Iranians there would be no disruption to state affairs.

Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst, said that Iran’s political system could indeed absorb any shock from Raisi’s incapacitation, with its strong governing elite and system of functional checks and balances.

Source: Al Jazeera