Iran's president, foreign minister and others found dead at helicopter crash site, state media says

ByBill Hutchinson, Somayeh Malekian, and Ellie Kaufman ABCNews logo
Monday, May 20, 2024
Iran's President Raisi dead in helicopter crash, Iranian state media reports
Iranian state television said President Ebrahim Raisi and others were found dead at the site of a helicopter crash Monday.

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Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi is dead following a helicopter crash, Iranian state media said Monday morning.

The Iranian minister of foreign affairs and the others onboard were also killed in the crash. Raisi's administration began an emergency meeting on Monday following the news of his death.

The helicopter carrying the officials crashed Sunday as it traveled through rainy and foggy conditions in the rural mountainous area near Kalibar and Warzghan in northern Iran, near the borders with Azerbaijan and Armenia.

The Red Crescent confirmed earlier Monday it had located the missing helicopter carrying Raisi, which had initially been said to have made a "hard landing." The head of Iran's Red Crescent, Hossein Kolivand, had told state media there was "no sign of life."

"The president's helicopter has been found," the head of Iran's Red Crescent said to state TV. "We can see the helicopter and we are moving towards the place. We have no details. Let us get on top of the helicopter to announce the details. We are about two kilometers away from the helicopter."

"Things are not good here," he said after being asked if they could see signs of a crash or burn.

Search and rescue operations were launched not long after the incident happened, according to the Iranian Foreign Ministry.

Two hot spots were identified in the village of Tawal by a Turkish drone sent to help with rescue efforts, IRNA, Iran's state news agency, reported early Monday local time.

Red Crescent rescue teams began "moving towards the possible landing place of the helicopter," IRNA reported earlier.

"Currently, there are 73 rescue teams in the search area for the helicopter in the Tawal village, of which 23 Red Crescent teams (detector dogs) have been sent from Tehran and neighboring provinces to the accident area along with advanced and specialized equipment," IRNA reported Sunday.

The weather in the area was bad on Sunday and overnight, the emergency teams reported.

"The weather conditions in the area are foggy and rainy, and the search operation is conducted despite the difficult conditions and reduced visibility in the area," the Red Crescent National Emergency Management Headquarters said.

President Joe Biden was briefed on the Iranian president's helicopter incident, according to White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Sunday.

The State Department was closely following reports of the incident, a spokesperson said Sunday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Sunday he was sending 50 rescuers, two planes and one helicopter to Iran to help in the search, TASS, a Russian news service, reported.

According to the Turkish Defense Ministry, the country sent an Akinci UAV and a Cougar-type helicopter with night vision capability to help with search and rescue operations.

The incident unfolded in the mountainous area of Kalibar and Warzghan in central Iran.

Earlier, one of the president's relatives told the Fars News Agency that the helicopter was forced to land due to foggy weather.

In an appearance on state TV, Iranian Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi confirmed that the president's helicopter made a "rough landing."

Later Sunday, a spokesperson for the Iranian government described the helicopter incident as an "accident."

"We are 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 according to the coordinates of the accident site and the weather conditions, there is 'no' new news until now. In these moments, patience, prayer and trust in relief groups are the way forward," the government spokesperson said.

The first reports of trouble with Raisi's helicopter, one of three in a convoy carrying the Iranian officials, began to circulate on state-affiliated media on Sunday at around 3:45 p.m. local time, or 8:15 a.m. ET.

Initially, 40 search-and-rescue teams had been sent to the area, the head of the Iranian Red Crescent announced to state media. Though search-and-rescue aircraft were also sent to the area, weather conditions prevented them from flying, according to the Red Crescent.

Vahidi said Raisi was in the area to help open the Khoda Afarin and the Qiz Qalasi dams near Azerbaijan and was returning home from the journey when the incident occurred.

"One of the helicopters was forced to make a rough landing due to bad weather conditions and fog in the area," Vahidi said.

Ilham Aliyev, the president of Azerbaijan who was at the dedication of the dams Sunday with Raisi, offered assistance from his country in locating the helicopter.

"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," Aliyev said in a post on the social media site X. "Our prayers to Allah Almighty are with President Ebrahim Raisi and the accompanying delegation. As a neighbor, friend and brotherly country, the Republic of Azerbaijan stands ready to offer any assistance needed."

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, supreme leader of Iran, also issued a statement Sunday asking people to pray that Raisi and the others are found safe.

"We hope that Almighty God will return the respected and honorable president and his companions to the arms of the nation," Khamenei said. "Everyone should pray for the health of this group of servants."