Iran president visited dam project hours before helicopter incident

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi was inaugurating a joint dam project with Azerbaijan on the shared border hours before his helicopter made a rough landing in heavy fog on the return journey on Sunday, May 19.

The helicopter carrying Raisi and his foreign minister crashed as it was crossing mountain terrain in heavy fog on the way back from a visit to the border with Azerbaijan, an Iranian official told Reuters.

The official said the lives of Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian were “at risk following the helicopter crash”.

The bad weather was complicating rescue efforts, the state news agency IRNA reported.

State TV stopped all its regular programming to show prayers being held for Raisi across the country and, in a corner of the screen, live coverage of rescue teams searching the mountainous area on foot in heavy fog.

The 63-year-old was elected president at the second attempt in 2021, and since taking office has ordered a tightening of morality laws, overseen a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests and pushed hard in nuclear talks with world powers.

In Iran’s dual political system, split between the clerical establishment and the government, it is the supreme leader rather than the president who has the final say on all major policies.

But many see Raisi as a strong contender to succeed his 85-year-old mentor, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has strongly endorsed Raisi’s main policies.

Interior Minister Ahmed Vahidi told state TV only that one of the helicopters in a group of three had come down hard, and that authorities were awaiting further details.

Raisi had been at the Azerbaijani border to inaugurate the Qiz-Qalaisi Dam, a joint project.

Khamenei, who holds ultimate power with a final say on foreign policy and Iran’s nuclear programme, said he was praying for Raisi’s safety.

“But our dear people, whether you are present here or those who will hear my message later, be sure that there will be no disruption in the work of the country. Officials have been busy with their work very strongly since this evening after hearing the news of the incident. We have given them the necessary recommendations, and everything, the affairs of the country, are proceeding regularly, both the security of the country and the security of the borders, as well as the rest of the work that should be done at the national level by the executive branch. People should not worry, God willing, the president will return to the people and things will be done in the best way,” Khamenei said.

An Iranian official told Reuters the lives of Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian were “at risk following the helicopter crash”, which happened on the way back from a visit to the border with Azerbaijan in Iran’s northwest.

Iranian state media said bad weather was the cause of the crash and was complicating rescue efforts.

UPDATE:

No survivors from helicopter crash involving Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, says Iranian state television.

A Turkish Akinci unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) identified a source of heat early Monday suspected to be the crash site of a helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and shared its coordinates with Iranian authorities.

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