Rescuers search for Iranian president after helicopter crash

Unnamed official says Ebrahim Raisi’s life ‘at risk’; rescue efforts hampered by adverse weather

The lives of Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi and the country’s foreign minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian, are “at risk” following a helicopter crash on Sunday, an unnamed official told Reuters. Iranian interior minister Ahmed 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.

“We are still hopeful but information coming from the crash site is very concerning,” the unnamed official told Reuters. Three rescue workers searching for the crashed helicopter are missing, a spokesperson for the Red Crescent humanitarian movement said on Sunday afternoon. There were conflicting reports later in the evening as state TV said the president’s crashed helicopter had been found by rescuers, only for the Red Crescent to say that was not the case. A Red Crescent 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.

Mr Raisi was travelling in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province. State TV said the incident happened near Jolfa, a city on the border with Azerbaijan, some 600km northwest of the Iranian capital Tehran.


Also travelling in the convoy, which consisted of three helicopters, were Amirabdollahian, the governor of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province and other officials, the state-run IRNA news agency reported.

“The esteemed president and company were on their way back aboard some helicopters and one of the helicopters was forced to make a hard landing due to the bad weather and fog,” Mr Vahidi said in comments aired on state TV.

“Various rescue teams are on their way to the region but because of the poor weather and fogginess it might take time for them to reach the helicopter.”

He added: “The region is a bit [rugged] and it’s difficult to make contact. We are waiting for rescue teams to reach the landing site and give us more information.”

There had been heavy rain and fog reported with some wind.

IRNA called the area a “forest” and the region is known to be mountainous as well.

Mr Raisi had been in Azerbaijan early on Sunday to inaugurate a dam with Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev.

The dam is the third one that the two nations built on the Aras river.

The visit came despite chilly relations between the two nations, including over a gun attack on Azerbaijan’s embassy in Tehran in 2023, and Azerbaijan’s diplomatic relations with Israel, which Iran’s Shiite theocracy views as its main enemy in the region.

Iran flies a variety of helicopters in the country, but international sanctions make it difficult to obtain parts for them.

Its military air fleet also largely dates back to before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Mr Raisi, 63, is a hard-liner who formerly led the country’s judiciary.

He is viewed as a protege of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and some analysts have suggested he could replace the 85-year-old leader after his death or resignation from the role.

Mr Raisi won Iran’s 2021 presidential election, a vote that saw the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic’s history.. - Additional reporting AP