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Ebrahim Raisi: search and rescue operation after helicopter crash

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Peter Beaumont

Peter Beaumont

Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, who is missing in Iran’s mountains after a helicopter crash near the border with Azerbaijan, is a hardliner who was instrumental in the last few years in steering Iran back towards the more uncompromising beliefs of the Islamic Republic’s revolutionary founders.

A supporter of deeply conservative values on the domestic front, in terms of foreign policy Raisi also carved out an increasingly aggressive stance, and it was on his watch that Tehran opted to launch its recent unprecedented missile and drone strike against Israel bringing the two countries into direct and open conflict for the first time.

While he was elected president in June 2021, having represented himself as the best person to fight corruption and Iran’s economic problems, Raisi had long occupied important positions in Iran, including an allegedkey role in the so-called Death Committee responsible for executing thousands of prisoners in the 1980s, a claim he has denied.

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Turkey is sending search and rescue equipment to help find the Iranian president and foreign minister.

A night vision search and rescue helicopter, 32 personnel and six vehicles have been sent to the country, the country’s disaster agency said.

A further 15 rescuers have been placed on alert in case they are needed, it added.

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In this photo provided by Moj News Agency, rescue teams' vehicles are seen near the site of the incident of the helicopter carrying Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi in Varzaghan in northwestern Iran.

In this photo provided by Moj News Agency, rescue teams’ vehicles are seen near the site of the incident of the helicopter carrying Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi in Varzaghan in northwestern Iran. Photograph: Azin Haghighi/APShare

Iran’s Red Crescent humanitarian movement has denied the state TV report about the crashed helicopter being found.

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The Turkish foreign ministry said it was following developments in Sunday’s Iran helicopter accident with sadness and hoping for the president’s wellbeing, adding that action had been taken to provide all kinds of support to search and rescue activities.

“We hope that the Iranian officials, including Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian are safe and healthy,” it said in a statement.

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The helicopter that crashed has been found by search teams, Iranian state TV reported. There is no update yet on the condition of those onboard.

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Qatar is ready to provide “all forms of support” for Iran’s search efforts, the Qatari foreign ministry said in a statement.

Saudi Arabia and Russia have also released statements offering similar support.

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Janez Lenarčič, the European Commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management, said the EU is activating its Copernicus emergency mapping service in response to an Iranian request for assistance.

Upon Iranian request for assistance we are activating the 🇪🇺’s @CopernicusEMS rapid response 📡 mapping service in view of to the helicopter accident reportedly carrying the President of #Iran and its foreign minister. #EUSolidarity

— Janez Lenarčič (@JanezLenarcic) May 19, 2024

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Contact has been made with one passenger and one crew member who were on the helicopter, an unnamed Iranian official told state TV.

The official said contact has been made on several occasions.

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Rescue teams work following a crash of a helicopter carrying Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi, in Varzaqan, East Azerbaijan Province, Iran.

Rescue teams work following a crash of a helicopter carrying Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi, in Varzaqan, East Azerbaijan Province, Iran. Photograph: Azin Haghighi/Reuters

Rescue vehicles are seen following a crash of a helicopter carrying Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi on Sunday.

Rescue vehicles are seen following a crash of a helicopter carrying Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi on Sunday. Photograph: Azin Haghighi/ReutersShare

Rescuers have not yet reached the crash site of a helicopter carrying Iran’s president and foreign minister and are “experiencing difficult and complicated conditions”, an Iranian government spokesperson said.

In a post on X, Ali Bahadori Jahromi said there was still no update on Ebrahim Raisi and Hossein Amirabdollahian condition.

“It is the right of the people and the media to be aware of the latest news about the president’s helicopter accident, but according to the coordinates of the accident site and the weather conditions, there is “no” new news until now,” Jahromi added.

“In these moments, patience, prayer, and trust in relief groups are the way forward.”

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Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the nation “should pray” for Raisi’s health, state broadcaster IRIB reported.

“If the people of Iran do not worry, there will be no disruption in the work of the country”, he added.

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“We are closely following reports of a possible hard landing of a helicopter in Iran carrying the Iranian president and foreign minister,” a US state department spokesperson said in a statement.

A spokesperson for President Biden, Karine Jean-Pierre, told reporters aboard Air Force One that the president had been briefed on the situation.

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The president of Azerbaijan said he was “seriously worried” after hearing about Ebrahim Raisi’s helicopter crash.

Ilham Aliyev had met the Iranian president earlier today for the inauguration of a dam in Azerbaijan.

“Today, after meeting with the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran Ibrahim Raisi we were seriously worried by the news that the helicopter carrying the high delegation made an emergency landing in Iran,” he posted on X.

“Our prayers to almighty God are with President Ibrahim Raisi and his accompanying delegation.”

He added Azerbaijan was ready to provide any necessary support to Iran.

Today, after bidding a friendly farewell to the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ebrahim Raisi, we were profoundly troubled by the news of a helicopter carrying the top delegation crash-landing in Iran. Our prayers to Allah Almighty are with President Ebrahim Raisi and…

— Ilham Aliyev (@presidentaz) May 19, 2024

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  • Rescuers in Iran are trying to reach a helicopter which had a “hard landing”, state media reported, while traveling with an entourage including the Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi. The incident, which involved one helicopter in a convoy of three, was reported by Iranian state television on Sunday, which described it as an accident.

  • An unnamed Iranian official told Reuters that the lives of the president and his foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, were “at risk” following a “crash” as it was crossing mountain terrain in heavy fog.

  • The Red Crescent humanitarian movement had reported three of its workers were missing but later said they were accounted for. The search teams are close to the where the helicopter may have crashed, the BBC reported. The Red Crescent spokesperson added the search and rescue operation will slow down as the weather is expected to get “severely cold” soon with more rain forecast.

  • Raisi was traveling in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province, with state TV describing the area of the helicopter incident as being near Jolfa, a city on the border with Azerbaijan. The president had been in Azerbaijan earlier on Sunday to inaugurate a dam with Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev. The dam is the third one that the two nations have built on the Aras river.

  • All army resources will be utilised for the search and rescue operations Iranian’s army chief of staff said, state TV reported. Major general Mohammad Bagheri has also ordered guards to take part in the search efforts, it said.

  • Iraq has instructed its interior ministry, the Red Crescent and other relevant bodies to offer help to neighbouring Iran and assist in the search.

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The Red Crescent humanitarian movement had said that three of its workers were missing but later said they were accounted for.

The search teams are close to the where the helicopter may have crashed, the BBC reported.

The Red Crescent spokesperson added the search and rescue operation will slow down as the weather is expected to get “severely cold” soon with more rain forecast.

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Iraq has instructed its interior ministry, the Red Crescent and other relevant bodies to offer help to neighbouring Iran and assist in the search after the Iranian president’s helicopter crashed in mountainous terrain, the Iraqi government said in a statement.

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