20 May 2024, 09:59
Update : 20 May 2024, 15:21

Iran President Raisi's helicopter found, 'no sign of life'

TEHRAN, May 20, 2024 (BSS/AFP) - Rescue teams in northwest Iran early Monday
located the missing helicopter carrying President Ebrahim Raisi but no signs
of life had been detected so far, state TV reported.

Fears had been growing for the 63-year-old ultraconservative after contact
was lost with the aircraft carrying him as well as Foreign Minister Hossein
Amir-Abdollahian and others in East Azerbaijan province on Sunday, reports

"Upon finding the helicopter, there was no sign of the helicopter passengers
being alive as of yet," state TV reported about 15 hours after the aircraft
went missing.

Iran's Red Crescent chief Pirhossein Koolivand said rescue teams were heading
towards the site after locating the aircraft.

"The helicopter has been found. Now, we are moving toward the helicopter,"
said Koolivand. "We are seeing the helicopter. The situation is not good."

Iranian media including Fars news agency shared drone images of what appeared
to be the wreckage of the helicopter.

State television reported earlier Monday that a Turkish drone appeared to
have detected "the coordinates of the accident" and had informed Iranian
rescue teams.

It first reported Sunday afternoon that "an accident happened to the
helicopter carrying the president" in the Jolfa region of East Azerbaijan

The search operation was being carried out by 73 rescue teams in "difficult
conditions" in a mountainous area covered in thick fog and rain, the Red
Crescent said.

Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi earlier said the helicopter "made a hard
landing" in bad weather.

He urged people to get their information "only from state television", and
not listen to foreign media channels Iran deems hostile to the Islamic

Raisi's convoy had included three helicopters, and the other two had "reached
their destination safely", said the Tasnim news agency.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged Iranians to "not worry" about the
leadership of the Islamic republic, saying "there will be no disruption in
the country's work".

"We hope that Almighty God will bring our dear president and his companions
back in full health into the arms of the nation," he said in a nationally
televised address as Muslim faithful prayed for Raisi's safe return.

Expressions of concern and offers to help came from abroad, including Iraq,
Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Russia and Turkey, as well as from the
European Union which activated its rapid response mapping service to aid in
the search effort.

Iran's foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani expressed gratitude for
"governments and international organisations for their sympathy and offer of
help in the search and rescue operations."

- Massive search effort -

Iran's cabinet held an emergency meeting led by Vice President Mohammad
Mokhber after the incident, the IRNA news agency reported.

Rescue teams using search dogs and drones were sent to the mountainous
protected forest area of Dizmar near the town of Varzaghan, IRNA said.

Army, Revolutionary Guard and police officers joined the search, authorities
said, as TV stations showed pictures of Red Crescent teams walking up a hill
in the mist, and rows of waiting emergency response vehicles.

Raisi had visited the northwestern province to inaugurate a dam project
together with Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev, on their common border.

Aliyev said in a post on X that "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 the
accompanying delegation," he said, also offering "any assistance needed".

Foreign countries were closely following the search at a time of high
regional tensions over the Gaza war between Israel and Hamas since October 7
that has drawn in other armed groups in the Middle East.

A US State Department spokesman said: "We are closely following reports of a
possible hard landing of a helicopter in Iran carrying the Iranian president
and foreign minister", adding that "we have no further comment at this time".

US President Joe Biden has been briefed on the crash, an American official
said on condition of anonymity.

- 'Servant of the people' -

Raisi has been president since 2021 when he succeeded the moderate Hassan
Rouhani, at a time when the economy was battered by US sanctions over Iran's
contested nuclear programme.

Iran saw a wave of protests triggered by the death in custody of Iranian-
Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in September 2022 after her arrest for allegedly
flouting dress rules for women.

In March 2023, regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia signed a surprise deal
that restored diplomatic relations.

The Gaza war sent regional tensions soaring again and a series of tit-for-tat
escalations led to Tehran launching hundreds of missiles and rockets directly
at Israel in April this year.

In a speech following Sunday's dam inauguration, Raisi emphasised Iran's
support for Palestinians, a centrepiece of its foreign policy since the 1979
Islamic revolution.

"We believe that Palestine is the first issue of the Muslim world, and we are
convinced that the people of Iran and Azerbaijan always support the people of
Palestine and Gaza and hate the Zionist regime," said Raisi.

Hamas, which the United States and European Union consider a terrorist group,
said that "in this painful incident, we express our full solidarity with the
Islamic Republic of Iran, its leadership, government and people".



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