Photo Credit: Tasnim News Agency
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi

A helicopter carrying Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi and other Iranian officials had a “hard landing” Sunday afternoon in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province, near Jolfa.

Diplomatic sources in the West estimate that Raisi did not survive the crash, according to Israel’s Channel 12 News, but there has been no official confirmation that he died.


Dozens of search and rescue crews were sent out to search for the crash site, which was located in difficult, mountainous terrain made more complex by the poor weather conditions. Special forces from the Iranian Army and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) arrived after nightfall to continue the search.

Iranian Red Crescent Society chief Pir Hossein Kolivand said in a statement Sunday afternoon that 40 rapid response teams were conducting search operations in the location where the accident took place, the semi-official Tasnim News Agency reported.

“We are making every effort to carry out the necessary actions,” he said, adding that the weather conditions were “extremely unfavorable” and the terrain “difficult to navigate… We have utilized drones and aerial measures, but due to the poor weather conditions, aerial search operations are not feasible. The area is rugged and mountainous,” the IRCS chief said. “We have also dispatched forces from specific provinces to ensure that more personnel are on site.”

Three rescuers also disappeared as they searched the waterlogged, muddy terrain.

The European Union also joined the search, operating the “Copernicus” satellite mapping service in an effort to locate the downed helicopter.

European Commissioner for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarčič, told reporters, “Upon an Iranian request for assistance we are activating the European Union’s ‘Copernicus EMS’ rapid response satellite mapping service, in view of the helicopter accident reportedly carrying the President of Iran and its foreign minister.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Ale-Hashem — who represents Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in the province and serves as the Friday prayer imam of Tabriz — were also aboard the helicopter with Raisi. Their conditions were also unknown.

“We are still hopeful, but the information coming from the crash site is very disturbing,” an Iranian official told the Reuters news agency.

Iranians were asked by state media to pray for their 63-year-old president as search and rescue teams set out for the crash site after contact with the crew of the helicopter and its passengers was lost. Two other helicopters that were part of the convoy made it back safely to Tabriz.

Social media users meanwhile reported a “significant deployment” of Iranian security and military personnel spread out across the capital, Tehran. Members of the country’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) were allegedly taking up positions around several government buildings in the city.

Raisi had visited neighboring Azerbaijan the previous day, where he inaugurated the cross-border dam together with Azeri President Ilham Aliyev.

If the Iranian president’s death is declared, Iran’s first vice president Mohammad Mokhber will become Iran’s next president, after an official approval from Khamenei; a new president will then be elected in fifty days.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for, and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.