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Iran: President Raisi, Foreign Minister, Others Killed in Helicopter Crash

Travelling with the president in the helicopter was Iranian foreign minister Hussein Amirabdollahian, East Azerbaijan Governor Malek Rahmati and several other passengers.
File photo of Iranian President Ebrahimn Raisi. (Photo courtesy IRNA News Agency)

New Delhi: Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi, the country’s foreign minister and others have been found dead at the helicopter crash site, state media report. Earlier, Iran state TV reported that there was “no sign of life” detected at the crash site of the helicopter.

“Upon finding the helicopter, there was no sign of the helicopter passengers being alive as of yet,” state TV reported.

The update came within minutes of rescuers having said they had located the site of the accident where Raisi’s helicopter was believed to have gone down.

“President Raisi’s helicopter was completely burned in the crash … unfortunately, all passengers are feared dead,” an Iranian official told Reuters news agency.

Travelling with the president in the helicopter was Iranian foreign minister Hussein Amirabdollahian, East Azerbaijan Governor Malek Rahmati and several other passengers, state media said.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was “deeply saddened” by Raisi’s “tragic demise”. “His contribution to strengthening India-Iran bilateral relationship will always be remembered,” he added.

External affairs minister S. Jaishankar too said he was “deeply shocked”.

Modi had on Sunday conveyed his concern as search and rescue teams struggled to reach the site where Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s helicopter made a “hard landing,” hindered by dense fog and rugged mountainous terrain.

Iran’s interior minister Ahmad Vahidi reported that Raisi’s helicopter had a “hard landing” in the Varzaqan region on Sunday afternoon while returning from a dam inauguration ceremony with the Azerbaijani president.

Raisi was travelling in a convoy of three helicopters. While the two other choppers reached their destination safely, the presidential helicopter went missing. Raisi and other officials were returning from Iran’s northwestern province of East Azerbaijan on Sunday evening when the accident took place in the province. Details about the exact location of the site was contradictory as of Sunday.

Raisi was there to inaugurate a dam with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev earlier on Sunday.

Modi tweeted late on Sunday night that he was “deeply concerned” by the reports about the helicopter crash. “We stand in solidarity with the Iranian people in this hour of distress, and pray for well being of the president and his entourage,” he posted.

Over 46 rescue and relief teams were dispatched to the area, but it took them time to reach the crash site due to foggy weather and impassibility of the area. They reached the site in the early hours on Monday.

Iranian state television was filled with visuals of people praying for the rescue of President Raisi.

In his first statement, the Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamanei said the nation “doesn’t need to be worried or anxious” as there will be “no disruption” in the work of the country. He also prayed for the return of the president and his entourage “to the arms of the nation”.

As per Iranian constitution’s article 131, in case the president is unable to continue in office or passes away, the first vice president will take office. He will be obliged to make preparations for a new presidential election from the day president is declared dead.

This means Vice President Mohammed Mokhber, could assume the post of president in the event of Raisi’s death.

Iranian Vice President Mohammd Mokhber (right) with India’s external affairs minister S. Jiashankar at the NAM meeting in Kampala, Ugana in 2023. Photo: Instagram

India has maintained close relations with Tehran, with an Indian consortium recently signing a long-term lease for Iranian port of Chabahar. India had also backed Iran’s successful candidature for an expanded BRICS forum.

As the hours passed without any contact with the crashed helicopters, several countries offered assistance in the search operations.

Upon a request from Iran, European Union’s chief for crisis management, Janez Lenarcic announced that the bloc had activated its Copernicus satellite system to provide emergency mapping services for Iranian search efforts.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry stated that the kingdom “stands beside the brotherly Iranian Islamic Republic in these difficult circumstances and was prepared to offer any assistance Iranian authorities need.”

The US state department commented that it was “closely following” the developments, but had no further comments to provide at this time.

Raisi, a hardline conservative, was elected president of Iran in 2021, after losing his initial bid to unseat the moderate incumbent Hassan Rouhani in 2017. He was widely regarded as one of the top candidates to be a successor to the 85-year-old Supreme Leader, whose office weilds ultimate political and religious authority in Iran.

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