Helicopter Carrying Iranian President Raisi Crashes, Prompting Massive Search Operation, Local Media Reports

Rescuers are searching in the dark for a helicopter. According to Iranian officials, the helicopter crashed while carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in northern Iran on Sunday. 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. A Turkish drone has located a heat source. Despite hours of searching, emergency crews have been unable to reach the crash site amid reported fog and extreme cold.

IRNA reported that a regional commander for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps announced late 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 members.

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

Iranian Military Attempts to Reach Helicopter Crash Site 

The incident comes at a sensitive time domestically. Tehran and seven months into Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza that has sent tensions soaring throughout the Middle East. It also 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. It was the first-ever direct attack on the country. In response to a deadly apparent Israeli airstrike on Iran’s consulate in Damascus.

Iran’s hardline leadership has faced significant challenges in recent years. Also, it has been 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. These protests started with the death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran’s notorious morality police.

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

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, the country’s top leader, echoed the call in a video, 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 country’s work.”

Poor Weather Complicates The Search For The Helicopter

IRNA reported that Raisi and Amir Abdollahian were returning from a ceremony to open a dam on Iran’s border with Azerbaijan when the accident occurred. According to the IRGC-run media outlet Sepah, seven other people were also in the helicopter. These included a local imam, the provincial governor, security staff, and the helicopter’s crew.

Officials said that officials said two other helicopters in the same convoy of dignitaries arrived safely at their destinations.

Iranian authorities have identified a 2-kilometer radius for the crash site. They believe the accident was “not severe” after speaking with two people who were traveling on the downed helicopter. The Iranian Vice President for Executive Affairs Mohsen Mansouri told Iranian semi-official FARS news.

“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. Thus, indicating the incident was not severe. The Red Crescent, FRAJA, Army, and IRGC rescue teams have arrived and divided tasks,” he said.

Search for Iranian President’s Chopper Stalled by Fog

According to IRNA, the crash site is believed to be somewhere in the Dizmar Forest area between the villages of Ozi and Pir Davood. Residents in the northern Varzeqan region reported hearing 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 and are now in the area with all rescue forces busy searching,” Eynollahi said on state TV on Sunday. “We have deployed all medical facilities. Including emergency medicine, surgery and ambulance.”

Iranian military officials said that the deployment of helicopters in the area had already failed due to the weather.

“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,” the Commander 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.”

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

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

Who is President Raisi?

Those of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei dwarf Raisi’s powers as President Raisi’s. The final arbiter of domestic and foreign affairs in the Islamic Republic.

However, Raisi is widely seen as a figure in which the Iranian clerical establishment has heavily invested. Also, as a potential successor to the 85-year-old Khamenei.

Raisi’s election in 2021 was 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. He guaranteed 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. It 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 has left many Iranians 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.

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