Helicopter Carrying Iranian President Raisi Crashes in Northwest Iran, Massive Rescue Operation Underway

Iranian President Raisi
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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, along with the country’s foreign minister and other officials, reportedly crashed in the mountainous northwest region of Iran on Sunday, prompting a large-scale rescue operation in a fog-covered forest as the public was urged to pray for those on board.

The incident comes at a critical time for Iran, which under Raisi and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has recently conducted an unprecedented drone-and-missile attack on Israel and enriched uranium closer to weapons-grade levels. The nation has also faced years of mass protests over its economic struggles and women’s rights, adding to the sensitivity of the situation amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict.

Raisi was traveling in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province when state TV reported a “hard landing” near Jolfa, a city on the border with Azerbaijan, approximately 600 kilometers (375 miles) northwest of Tehran. Conflicting reports later placed the incident near the village of Uzi. Details remain contradictory.

Iranian state media reported that Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, the governor of East Azerbaijan province, and other officials were traveling with Raisi. While one local official described the event as a “crash,” others referred to it as a “hard landing” or an “incident.”

No immediate information was provided on Raisi’s condition. However, hard-line elements within the country called on the public to pray for his safety. State TV showed images of people praying at the Imam Reza Shrine in Mashhad and other significant sites across the country.

Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi stated on state TV that the helicopter was forced to make a hard landing due to adverse weather conditions. Rescue teams were dispatched but faced challenges due to the heavy fog and poor weather.

State TV aired images of rescue vehicles navigating through a wooded area, while rescuers were seen moving through fog and mist. Emergency services spokesman Babak Yektaparast told IRNA that a rescue helicopter was unable to land due to heavy mist.

As the rescue operation continued into the night, government spokesman Ali Bahadori Jahromi acknowledged the complexity of the situation, urging patience and prayer.

Supreme Leader Khamenei also called on the public to pray for Raisi’s safe return. Raisi, viewed as a potential successor to the 85-year-old Khamenei, had been inaugurating a dam near the Azerbaijan border earlier in the day.

Iran operates a variety of helicopters, but international sanctions have made obtaining parts difficult. The helicopter in question resembled a Bell helicopter with a blue-and-white paint scheme, according to images published by IRNA.

Raisi, who won the 2021 presidential election with the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic’s history, is sanctioned by the U.S. for his involvement in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988. Under his leadership, Iran has enriched uranium to near weapons-grade levels, armed Russia in its war on Ukraine, and launched attacks on Israel.

Iran continues to face internal unrest, most recently over the death of Mahsa Amini in 2022, which led to nationwide protests and a harsh government crackdown.

President Joe Biden was briefed on the crash, but U.S. officials have not learned much more than what has been reported by Iranian state media, according to a senior administration official. – AP