Search and rescue efforts underway after helicopter carrying Iran’s President Raisi has ‘hard landing’

Search and rescue efforts underway after helicopter carrying Iran’s President Raisi has ‘hard landing’

Search and rescue efforts are underway in Iran after a helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi suffered a “hard landing,” state news media reported Sunday.

Raisi was traveling in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province, returning from a ceremony to open a dam on Iran’s border with Azerbaijan when the helicopter crashed while landing in the Varzaqan region, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported.

Raisi was traveling with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, the governor of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province and other officials and bodyguards, IRNA added.

The passengers’ conditions were unknown.

About 40 teams are searching the area, though inclement weather conditions have made the operation more difficult, officials told state news outlets. Iran’s Red Crescent Society chief Pir Hossein Koulivand told IRNA that searching by air is impossible due to the weather, but drones were also deployed to help locate the crash site.

“The esteemed president and company were on their way back aboard some helicopters, and one of the helicopters was forced to make a hard landing due to the bad weather and fog,” Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said in comments aired on state TV, per The Associated Press (AP).

“Various rescue teams are on their way to the region, but because of the poor weather and fogginess it might take time for them to reach the helicopter,” he added.

State TV initially said the incident occurred near Jolfa, a border city near the nation of Azerbaijan, about 600 kilometers northwest of the Iranian capital, Tehran. Later, state TV estimated it occurred farther east near the village of Uzi, though few details have been confirmed, the AP reported.

Iranian government spokesperson Ali Bahadori-Jahromi said later Sunday that the search was “experiencing difficult and complicated conditions.”

“It is the right of the people and the media to be aware of the latest news about the president’s helicopter accident, but considering the coordinates of the incident site and the weather conditions, there is ‘no’ new news whatsoever until now,” he wrote on the social platform X. “In these moments, patience, prayer and trust in relief groups are the way forward.”

Iran flies various helicopters in the nation, though international sanctions make it more difficult to obtain parts for them, and its military air fleet mostly dates back to before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the news wire added. IRNA published photos of Raisi apparently taking off in what looked like a Bell 412 helicopter.

Raisi, 63, is a hard-liner who used to lead the country’s judiciary. Some analysts believe Raisi could replace Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 85, after his death or designation, per the AP.

He won Iran’s 2021 presidential election in the lowest voter turnout in the Islamic Republic’s history, the news wire added. Raisi faces sanctions partly from the U.S. over his involvement in the execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988 at the end of the Iran-Iraq war.

In the event of Raisi’s death, First Vice President Mohammed Mokhber would assume presidential powers if approved by Iran’s Supreme Leader under the Islamic Republic constitution, Reuters reported.

A council featuring the first vice president, the speaker of the parliament and the head of the judiciary must set up an election for a new president within 50 days, Reuters added.

The Qiz-Qalasi Dam is the third built by the two nations on the Aras River, per the AP. The two countries have recently had tense relations, in part due to a gun attack on Azerbaijan’s Embassy in Tehran in 2023 and Azerbaijan’s diplomatic relations with Israel.

A State Department spokesperson confirmed to The Hill the agency is following reports about the incident and declined to comment further.

Updated at 5:36 pm.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.