Iran helicopter crash: Search for missing president Ebrahim Raisi hampered by dense fog

Iranians called upon to pray for president, who was returning from visit to country’s northwest when crash happened

Rescue teams are searching into the night to try to locate Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi after his helicopter crashed on his way back from a visit to the country’s northwest.

There was dense fog in the region, making conditions difficult for search teams, state media said, without giving a direct cause for the incident on Sunday.

Iran’s government spokesman Ali Bahadori Jahromi said late in the evening on X that there were “no new updates” and that the country was grappling with a “difficult and complicated situation”.

Finding the president’s helicopter “could take time” due to difficult weather conditions, interior minister Ahmad Vahidi said on Iranian television. An aerial search was “impossible” after at least five hours of the hunt on the ground.


Mr Raisi, an ultraconservative cleric in his 60s who won Iran’s presidential election in 2021, has been seen as a favourite to eventually succeed supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is the Islamic republic’s top authority.

The incident comes at a time of turmoil in the Middle East over the war in Gaza between Israel and Iran-backed Hamas – designated a terrorist organisation by the US and European Union. It has edged Iran and Israel close to all-out conflict and led to other Tehran-supported groups, including the Houthis in Yemen and Shiite militias in Iraq, to attack US bases and commercial ships in the Red Sea.

Mr Raisi’s air fleet consisted of three helicopters with high-ranking officials including foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported. Mr Amir-Abdollahian was believed to be on board Mr Raisi’s aircraft at the time.

Mr Vahidi confirmed to state TV earlier in the day the aircraft had a “rough landing” and said rescue teams’ efforts to reach the scene were being hampered by adverse weather.

Three rescue workers searching for the crashed helicopter were reported missing, a spokesperson for the Red Crescent humanitarian movement said on Sunday afternoon. The spokesperson said the rescue operation will be complicated by “severe cold” and rain as night falls.

Iran’s Fars news agency called on Iranians to pray for the president following the reports.

State television broadcast live footage from the country’s holy shrine in the northeastern city of Mashhad, Mr Raisi’s birthplace, showing pilgrims praying for the president. Others believed to be on board Mr Raisi’s helicopter included the governor of East Azerbaijan Province and the supreme leader’s representative in the city of Tabriz, Iranian media said.

A spokesman for UN secretary general António Guterres said in a statement that he was following reports of the incident “with concern”. “He hopes for the safety of the president and his entourage,” a UN spokesperson said in a statement.

The European commissioner for crisis management, Janez Lenarcic, said the commission had activated its satellite mapping service to aid search efforts, following a request for assistance from Iran. The Copernicus Emergency Management Service provides mapping products based on satellite imagery.

The US is closely following reports of the incident, a US State Department spokesperson said, without further comment. A spokesperson for US president Joe Biden, Karine Jean-Pierre, told reporters aboard Air Force One that the president had been briefed on the situation.

The Iraqi government, along with Russia and UAE, said that it stands ready to help in the search mission.

Earlier on Sunday, Mr Raisi met his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev to inaugurate a jointly developed dam on the border between the two countries. The incident occurred while Mr Raisi was returning from Iran’s East Azerbaijan province.

Mr Raisi’s ascension to the presidency came after eight years under the relative moderate Hassan Rouhani, who was central to the nuclear accord that former US president Donald Trump withdrew the US from in 2018.

The US exit from the deal empowered Iran’s hardliners, who were always critical of the agreement.

During his presidential election campaign Mr Raisi received support from the highest levels of Iran’s religious and military establishment, and put all of Iran’s state institutions and levers of power in the hands of hardliners.

– Bloomberg and Reuters