What do we know so far about Iranian president’s helicopter ‘accident’

Author: Editors Desk Source: France 24
May 19, 2024 at 19:33

The helicopter was carrying Iranian President Raisi, the country’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, the governor of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province and other officials and bodyguards, according to the state-run IRNA news agency. Raisi was returning from a trip to Iran’s border with Azerbaijan earlier Sunday to inaugurate a dam with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, the news agency said.

The helicopter apparently made a “hard landing” in the Dizmar forest between the cities of Varzaqan and Jolfa in Iran's East Azerbaijan province, near its border with Azerbaijan, under circumstances that remain unclear. Initially, Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said the helicopter “was forced to make a hard landing due to the bad weather and fog.”

Raisi’s convoy comprised three helicopters including two that landed safely in the northwestern city of Tabriz. Vahidi said it was “difficult to establish communication” with the third helicopter which was carrying Raisi.

Iranian officials have said the mountainous, forested terrain and heavy fog impeded search-and-rescue operations. The president of the Iranian Red Crescent Society, Pir-Hossein Koulivand, said 40 search teams were on the ground in the area despite “challenging weather conditions.” The search is being done by teams on the ground, as “the weather conditions have made it impossible to conduct aerial searches” via drones, Koulivand said, according to IRNA.

Raisi is seen as a protégé to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and a potential successor for his position within the country’s Shiite theocracy. Under the Iranian constitution, if he died, the country’s first vice president, Mohammad Mokhber, would become president.  Presidential elections would need to be arranged within 50 days.

Khamenei has publicly assured Iranians that there would be “no disruption to the operations of the country” as a result of the crash.

Countries including Russia, Iraq and Qatar have made formal statements of concern about Raisi’s fate and offered to assist in the search operations.

Azerbaijani President Aliyev said he was “deeply concerned” to hear of the incident, and affirmed that Azerbaijan was ready to provide any support necessary. Relations between the two countries have been chilly due to Azerbaijan’s diplomatic relations with Israel, Iran's regional arch-enemy.

Saudi Arabia, which is traditionally a rival of Iran although the two countries have recently made a rapprochement, also expressed concern in a statement and said it “stands by Iran in these difficult circumstances.”

(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)

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