Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi missing after helicopter crash in heavy fog

Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi missing after helicopter crash in heavy fog
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi, his foreign minister and other officials are missing after a helicopter crashed on Sunday in a mountainous border region during heavy fog.

The Bell 212 civilian aircraft went down between Jolfa and Varzaqan, a region on the border of Azerbaijani exclave Nakhchivan, around 600km (375 miles) northwest of the Iranian capital Tehran.

It was carrying Raisi, 63, and Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian, the governor of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province and other officials and bodyguards, the state-run IRNA news agency reported.

The aircraft suffered what state TV called a “hard landing” after it got into difficulty during heavy fog following a visit with the Azerbaijani president to discuss an infrastructure project over the Aras River, which separates Iran and Nakhchivan.

“We are still hopeful but information coming from the crash site is very concerning,” an Iranian official said. He added that Raisi’s life was “at risk”.

Forty rescue teams including Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, ambulances, surgeons, drones and dogs were scrambled to locate the helicopter, which was hampered by rain, fog and dark conditions.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, ambulances, surgeons, drones and dogs were scrambled to locate the helicopter (AP)
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, ambulances, surgeons, drones and dogs were scrambled to locate the helicopter (AP)

The chief of staff of Iran’s army ordered all resources of the army and the elite Revolutionary Guards to be put to use in search and rescue operations.

“We are thoroughly searching every inch of the general area of the crash,” state media quoted a regional army commander as saying. “The area has very cold, rainy, and foggy weather conditions. The rain is gradually turning into snow.”

On Sunday, Iranian state TV reported the helicopter had been found and quoted an official claiming a passenger and crew member were contacted. However, Iran’s Red Crescent denied the reports.

State media has yet to report on casualties or confirm the whereabouts or condition of the president – but urged Iranians to pray for the president.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds ultimate power with a final say on foreign policy and Iran’s nuclear programme, sought to reassure Iranians and urged them to pray for the president’s health.

“We hope that Almighty God will return the president and his companions to the nation, everyone should pray for their health. The people of Iran should not be worried, there will be no disruption in the work of the country,” Mr Khamenei said.

In Tehran, Iranian men and women were pictured publicly praying for Mr Raisi, with some kneeling down and some holding their hands to the sky.

Meanwhile, many countries have offered their support to Iran, including allies such as Russia, neighbours such as Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia, and the EU.

Russia said it was ready to extend “all necessary help” in the search for the missing helicopter and it hoped the president was still alive.

The EU also said it had provided a satellite mapping service to Iran in response to a request by Tehran for help.

In Tehran, Iranian men and women were pictured publicly praying for their missing president (AFP)
In Tehran, Iranian men and women were pictured publicly praying for their missing president (AFP)

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan added he was “deeply saddened” by the crash and was ready to provide assistance to Iran.

“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,” Mr Erdogan said.

President Raisi is a hardliner who formerly led the country’s judiciary. He is viewed as a protégé of Mr Khamenei and some analysts have suggested he could replace the 85-year-old leader after his death or resignation from the role.

President Raisi won Iran’s 2021 presidential election, a vote that saw the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic’s history.

President Raisi is a hardliner who formerly led the country’s judiciary (Getty)
President Raisi is a hardliner who formerly led the country’s judiciary (Getty)

He is sanctioned 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.

Iran now enriches uranium at nearly weapons-grade level and hampers international inspections. The country has armed Russia in its war on Ukraine, and launched a massive drone-and-missile attack on Israel amid its war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

It also has continued arming proxy groups in the Middle East, like Yemen's Houthi rebels and Lebanon's Hezbollah.