Iranian President’s Helicopter Makes Hard Landing, Rescue Operations Underway

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and other top officials were aboard a helicopter that made a “hard landing” in a mountainous region of northwestern Iran on Sunday. The incident occurred as the helicopter was returning from an event along Iran’s border with Azerbaijan, where Raisi had attended the opening of a dam alongside Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev. The helicopter carrying Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian, and other senior officials went down near Jolfa in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province.

Search and Rescue Efforts Hampered by Challenging Conditions

Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi confirmed the “hard landing” and stated that search-and-rescue operations were underway. However, he mentioned that fog and bad weather conditions in the area might delay rescue teams from reaching the site. Despite the challenges, Vahidi reported that two passengers on the flight had communicated with rescue workers.

Twenty rescue teams, including drones and dogs, have been dispatched to the scene, and the Iranian military has deployed troops to assist in the rescue effort. The Iranian Red Crescent has also sent more than 40 separate teams to the region. The government website IRNA reported that the president’s helicopter is believed to have crashed in the Dizmar Protected Area, a forested and mountainous zone.

The weather conditions have seriously hampered the search efforts, according to the head of the Iranian Red Crescent. Though search-and-rescue aircraft were sent to the area, the adverse weather has prevented them from flying. The rescue teams are facing a challenging task in reaching the crash site due to the fog and rain, which are expected to continue until Monday night.

Three Helicopters in President's Convoy, Two Reach Destination Safely

According to Iranian state media, three helicopters were in the president’s convoy, with two of them reaching their destination safely. The helicopter carrying Raisi and other officials was the only one to experience the “hard landing.” Energy Minister Ali Akbar Mehrabian and Housing and Transportation Minister Mehrdad Bazrpash were in the other helicopters that made it back safely.

Earlier in the day, Raisi had been seated next to Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, at the opening of a dam along the border between the two countries. The Iranian government’s social media account posted an image of the two leaders at the event before the incident occurred.

There has been no confirmation on the type of helicopter that was carrying the president and his team. Iran operates a variety of helicopters, but decades of sanctions have made it difficult to purchase new aircraft or obtain parts. Many of the military aircraft currently in service in Iran date back to before the country’s 1979 revolution.

Iran's Supreme Leader Expresses Hope for Safe Return

Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, expressed hope for the safe return of the president and his entourage. In a statement, Khamenei said, “We hope that Almighty God will return the respected and honorable president and his companions to the arms of the nation.” He also assured that the government would continue functioning amid the ongoing situation.

Khamenei urged Iranians to pray for Raisi and the others who were in the helicopter. A post on Raisi’s Instagram page also asked supporters to pray for his health and that of his fellow passengers. The supreme leader stressed that there would be “no disruption” in governance despite the incident.

As the head of government, Iran’s president holds a significant role in the country’s administration. However, the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, holds the ultimate authority in Iran, setting national policies, supervising their implementation, and controlling the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the police force.

Raisi's Background and Presidency

Ebrahim Raisi, a former cleric and judge, was elected president of Iran in 2021. He is considered a relative hard-liner compared to his predecessor, Hassan Rouhani. Raisi had stated that Iran would continue to honor its nuclear deal with the U.S. despite former President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement in 2018.

Last month, Raisi celebrated Iran’s attack on Israel following an airstrike in Damascus that killed seven members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Iran blamed Israel for the bombing, but Israel never claimed responsibility. Israel said it intercepted 99% of the missiles and drones Iran fired during its retaliatory strike.

According to Iran’s constitution, if the president dies while in office, the first vice president takes over with the approval of the country’s supreme leader. A new election must then be held within 50 days. As the search and rescue operations continue, the Iranian government and its people await news on the fate of their president and his delegation.