Fog, rain hamper search for Iran's president after helicopter crash
Published: May 20, 2024 07:38 AM
A hard landing happened to a helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and other senior officials in the northwestern province of East Azarbaijan on Sunday, Iran's state-run IRIB TV reported.

The area of the hard landing had been narrowed down to a radius of 2 km, but the exact location has yet to be determined, Iranian Vice President for Executive Affairs Mohsen Mansouri told state-run IRIB TV.

Speaking near the possible scene, Mansouri said the search and rescue work was going on slowly in a hard-to-reach area affected by bad weather. The incident occurred earlier Sunday in the Varzaqan County, some 670 km away from the capital Tehran.

Contact had been established with one of the passengers and a crew member aboard the helicopter, the vice president said, without specifying their identities.

IRIB TV reported that Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, East Azarbaijan's Governor Malek Rahmati, and the Friday prayers leader Tabriz Mohammad Ali Ale-Hasehem were also on the helicopter.

Their whereabouts remain unclear.

Rescuers from the Iranian Red Crescent Society, police, army, and Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, had been sent to the scene. Low temperatures and rainfall were causing further difficulties for their work, Mansouri noted.

Raisi was traveling in a convoy of three helicopters when the one carrying him lost communication with the other two approximately 30 minutes after takeoff.

The two other helicopters immediately began a search of the area for about 20 minutes, but were later compelled to make an emergency landing due to thick fog and other weather conditions, Mansouri noted.

The helicopter carrying Raisi and his team had an incident and suffered from a "hard landing" due to the bad weather, Iranian Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi told IRIB TV.

He said contacts had been made with some of the team accompanying the president, but given that the region was "complicated," establishing contacts was difficult.

The president's convoy was on its way from Khoda Afarin County, where Raisi had attended the inauguration ceremony of a storage dam along with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev earlier in the day, to the provincial capital Tabriz for the inauguration of a petrochemical complex.

Head of the Iranian Red Crescent Society Pirhossein Kolivand told IRIB TV that 40 rapid reaction teams had rushed to the scene and were monitoring the region.

He said drones were being used to search the region as the search by land or other aerial means was difficult due to the mountainous landscape and bad weather conditions.

Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Mohammad Baqeri has ordered the army, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and the police to make all-out efforts to search for and rescue the president and his accompanying team, said the Iran Newspaper.

Iranian people gathered in holy sites, including the Imam Reza holy shrine in the northeastern city of Mashhad, to pray for the president and others onboard.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei prayed for the safe return of Raisi and those accompanying him in the incident, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

Speaking in a meeting with the families of Iran's IRGC members in Tehran, he told Iranian people not to be worried as there would be no disruption in the country's affairs.

Regional countries including Türkiye, Azerbaijan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia have voiced concern over the incident and readiness to assist in search and rescue efforts.

Türkiye on Sunday evening sent a drone to join in the search and rescue operations for the helicopter on the request from the Iranian side through the foreign ministry, the Turkish Defense Minister said in a statement.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry stressed that the kingdom stands by Iran in these difficult circumstances and is ready to provide any assistance the Iranian authorities need.