Iranian president still missing as rescue crews search mountainous region for his helicopter

Author: Editors Desk, Thomson Reuters Source: CBC News:
May 19, 2024 at 22:56
In this photo provided by Islamic Republic News Agency, a helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi takes off at the Iranian border with Azerbaijan in Azeri, Iran, on Sunday. (Ali Hamed Haghdoust/IRNA/The Associated Press)
In this photo provided by Islamic Republic News Agency, a helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi takes off at the Iranian border with Azerbaijan in Azeri, Iran, on Sunday. (Ali Hamed Haghdoust/IRNA/The Associated Press)

Heavy fog reported in mountainous area where Ebrahim Raisi's aircraft was travelling

A helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his foreign minister made a rough landing on Sunday as it was crossing a mountainous area in heavy fog on the way back from a visit to Azerbaijan, Iranian news agencies said, and rescuers were struggling to reach the site of the incident.

The bad weather was complicating rescue efforts, the state news agency IRNA reported. The semi-official Fars news agency urged Iranians to pray for Raisi, and state TV carried prayers for his safety.

IRNA said the helicopter in question had been carrying Raisi, Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and local officials.

State TV quoted an official as saying at least one passenger and one crew member had been in contact with rescuers.

A Turkish drone identified a source of heat suspected to be the helicopter's wreckage and had shared the co-ordinates of the possible crash site with Iranian authorities, Anadolu news agency said on X, formerly Twitter.


Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds ultimate power with a final say on foreign policy and Iran's nuclear program, sought to reassure Iranians, saying there would be no disruption to state affairs.

The chief of staff of Iran's army ordered all resources of the army and the elite Revolutionary Guards to be put to use in search-and-rescue operations.

Earlier, the national broadcaster had stopped all regular programming to show prayers being held for Raisi across the country.

In the early hours of Monday, it showed a rescue team, wearing bright jackets and head torches, huddled around a GPS device as they searched a pitch-black mountainside on foot amid a snowy blizzard.

Neighbouring countries expressed concern and offered assistance in any rescue. The White House said U.S. President Joe Biden had been briefed on reports about the crash. Turkey said it had assigned a drone, a helicopter, vehicles and a rescue team after a request by Iranian authorities. The European Union offered emergency satellite mapping technology.


Tumultuous time in Iran

The crash comes at a time of growing dissent within Iran over an array of political, social and economic crises. Iran's clerical rulers face international pressure over Tehran's disputed nuclear program and its deepening military ties with Russia during the war in Ukraine.

Since Iran's ally Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7 and the ensuing war against the militant group in Gaza, conflagrations involving Iran-aligned groups have erupted throughout the Middle East.

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


Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi speaks into a microphone.
Raisi, shown addressing Iran's parliament in Tehran on Oct. 4, 2022, formerly led Iran's judiciary and won the country's 2021 presidential election. (Majid Asgaripour/West Asia News Agency/Reuters)

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.

For years, many have seen Raisi as a strong contender to succeed Khamenei, who has endorsed Raisi's main policies. Raisi's victory in a closely managed election in 2021 brought all branches of power under the control of hardliners, after eight years when the presidency had been held by pragmatist Hassan Rouhani and a nuclear deal negotiated with Washington.

However, Raisi's standing may have been dented by widespread protests against clerical rule and a failure to turn around Iran's economy, hamstrung by Western sanctions.

Raisi had been at the Azerbaijani border on Sunday to inaugurate the Qiz-Qalasi Dam, a joint project. Azerbaijan's president, Ilham Aliyev, who said he had bid a "friendly farewell" to Raisi earlier in the day, offered assistance in the rescue. Neighbour Iraq also offered help.



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