Who died alongside Iran’s President Raisi in the helicopter crash?

Foreign minister among officials and crew on board when the aircraft tumbled down, leaving no survivors.

Raisi and Abdollahian
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, left, and Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, died in a helicopter crash on May 19 [AP Photo]

President Ebrahim Raisi, his foreign minister, and other senior officials are confirmed to have died in a helicopter crash after a long overnight search in dense fog and snow in the mountainous terrain of Iran’s rugged East Azerbaijan province.

Their bodies were found on Monday morning, some hours after their chopper crashed, state media reported.

The accident challenges the country’s senior leadership, with Iran in the midst of heightened regional and global tensions centred on the war in Gaza.

Here’s a look at the officials who were killed:

Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s president

The 63-year-old Iranian leader was long viewed as the next-in-line to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s highest authority.

Raisi was a hardline religious conservative with deep ties to Iran’s judiciary and religious elite.

While in his early 20s, he was appointed prosecutor in several cities until he landed a post in the capital of Tehran to work as a deputy prosecutor in 1989.

His first attempt at winning the presidency in 2017 failed, but he eventually succeeded in 2021.

Raisi had risen through the ranks over the years, in 2016 becoming chairman of the Astan Quds Razavi (AQR), the biggest religious endowment in Mashhad, which cemented his status in Iran’s establishment. The AQR is a colossal bonyad, or charitable trust, that has billions of dollars in assets and is the custodian of the shrine of Imam Reza, the eighth Shia imam.

But the most recent Iranian president has faced controversy over the years.

In 1988, he was part of a committee overseeing a series of executions of political prisoners. That made him unpopular among the Iranian opposition and led to the US imposing sanctions on him.

More recently, he was angered by the US’s stance towards Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal – known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – and the inability of other signatories to save the pact. As a result, he announced that Iran was ramping up its nuclear programme, but also said Tehran was not interested in building a bomb.

Raisi was also a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, supporting his government’s war against the Syrian opposition, which has left hundreds of thousands dead.

He also led the country during the 2022 protests over the death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran’s morality police, a period during which the UN said Iran committed crimes against humanity in its crackdown.

Most recently, Raisi led Iran through a standoff with Israel over its ongoing war in Gaza.

Iran has been outspoken against the war, as have its regional allies in the so-called “axis of resistance” to Israel and its Western allies.


Hossein Amirabdollahian, Iran’s foreign minister

The top Iranian diplomat, who was with President Raisi in the helicopter that crashed, played a significant role in shifting Iran’s foreign policy from engagement with the West to improving relations with its regional neighbours.

Amirabdollahian, 60, had served in several positions in the Iranian Foreign Ministry since 1997, including as ambassador to Bahrain and deputy foreign minister for Arab and African affairs.

Raisi nominated him as foreign minister after he became president in 2021.

Amirabdollahian helped restore Iran’s diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia as part of a Chinese-brokered agreement and visited the kingdom in 2023 in a major thaw of relations between the two countries.

Since the outbreak of the war in Gaza, Amirabdollahian has been travelling across the Middle East to coordinate with allies, including Hezbollah in Lebanon, and convey Iran’s positions to countries in the region.

He had a PhD in international relations from the University of Tehran.


Malik Rahmati, governor of Iran’s East Azerbaijan Province

Malek Rahmati was recently appointed the East Azerbaijan province’s new governor by the Iranian cabinet.

Prior to this, he had taken on a number of roles within Iran’s political system.

He was previously appointed the head of Iran’s Privatization Organization, as well as deputy director of the AQR.

Rahmati was also once head of the Razavi Economic Organization, which was established in the late 1990s to procure the financial resources of the AQR; and member of the board of directors, and deputy head of the Kowsar Economic Organization, an entity active in many economic sectors, including mining, agriculture and healthcare.

Rahmati had also served in several other managerial positions in Iran’s Ministry of Interior.

Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Al-Hashem, representative of the Iranian supreme leader to East Azerbaijan

The supreme leader’s representative in East Azerbaijan province and an imam in the city of Tabriz, Mohammad Ali Ale-Hashem was also among those killed.

Ale-Hashim was additionally a member of the Expediency Council’s provincial chamber and a provincial deputy in the Assembly of Experts.

Who else was killed?

Sardar Seyed Mehdi Mousavi, head of Raisi’s guard team, the helicopter’s pilot Colonel Seyed Taher Mostafavi, co-pilot Colonel Mohsen Daryanush, and flight technician Major Behrouz Ghadimi, also all perished in the crash.

Aviation analyst Kyle Bailey told Al Jazeera the lack of communication from the helicopter pilot or another flight crew member likely means the crash was due to a “serious controllability issue”.

If a helicopter has a serious technical issue mid-flight, the pilot’s first task is to “keep the plane flying, and then communications would be second”, he said.

Three men in flight coveralls looking at the camera
From left: Technician Behrouz Ghadimi, pilot Seyed Taher Mostafavi, and co-pilot Mohsen Daryanush, the crew of the helicopter that had Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on board and crashed in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province on May 19, 2024 [Handout via Al Jazeera]
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies