Explainer: What we know about the helicopter crash that killed Iran’s president

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The helicopter crash that killed Iran’s president and foreign minister has sent shock waves around the region.

Iranian state media said on Monday that President Ebrahim Raisi, the country’s foreign minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian, and others have been found dead at the site after an hours-long search through a foggy, mountainous region of the country’s northwest.

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Here’s what we know so far:

Who was on board the helicopter and where were they going?

The helicopter was carrying Raisi, Amirabdollahian, the governor of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province and other officials and bodyguards, according to the state-run IRNA news agency.

Raisi was returning on Sunday after traveling to Iran’s border with Azerbaijan to inaugurate a dam with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev when the crash happened in the Dizmar forest in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province, under circumstances that remain unclear.

A helicopter carrying Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi takes off, near the Iran-Azerbaijan border, May 19, 2024. (Reuters)
A helicopter carrying Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi takes off, near the Iran-Azerbaijan border, May 19, 2024. (Reuters)

How did the search operation go?

Iranian officials have said the mountainous, forested terrain and heavy fog impeded search-and-rescue operations, which began on Sunday.

The president of the Iranian Red Crescent Society, Pir-Hossein Koulivand, said 40 search teams were on the ground despite “challenging weather conditions.”

Rescue team work following a crash of a helicopter carrying Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi, in Varzaqan, East Azerbaijan Province, Iran, May 19, 2024. (AFP)
Rescue team work following a crash of a helicopter carrying Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi, in Varzaqan, East Azerbaijan Province, Iran, May 19, 2024. (AFP)

Because of the bad weather, it was "impossible to conduct aerial searches” via drones, Koulivand said, according to IRNA.

How was the crash site found?

Early on Monday, Turkish authorities released what they described as drone footage showing what appeared to be a fire in the wilderness that they “suspected to be wreckage of a helicopter.”

The coordinates listed in the footage put the fire some 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of the Azerbaijan-Iranian border on the side of a steep mountain.

Footage released by IRNA showed what the agency described as the crash site, across a steep valley in a green mountain range. Soldiers speaking in the local Azeri language said: “There it is, we found it.” Shortly after, state TV in an on-screen scrolling text said: “There is no sign of life from people on board.”

How will Raisi’s death impact Iran?

Raisi was seen as a protégé to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and a potential successor for his position within the country’s Shiite theocracy.

Under the Iranian constitution, if a president dies, the country’s first vice president — in this case, Mohammad Mokhber — would become president. Khamenei has publicly assured Iranians that there would be “no disruption to the operations of the country” as a result of the crash.

Read more:

Iran’s President Raisi, FM killed in helicopter crash: State TV

World leaders offer condolences following death of Iran’s Ebrahim Raisi

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