Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi is missing after his helicopter crashes


Rescue teams are searching into the night to try to locate Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi after his helicopter crashed on his way back from a visit to the country’s northwest.

There was dense fog in the region, making conditions difficult for search teams, state media said, without giving a direct cause for the incident on Sunday. Iran’s government spokesman, Ali Bahadori Jahromi, said late in the evening on X that there were “no new updates” and that the country was grappling with a “difficult and complicated situation.”

Finding the president’s helicopter “could take time” due to difficult weather conditions, Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said on TV. An aerial search was “impossible” Iranian TV said, after at least five hours of the hunt on the ground.

Raisi, an ultraconservative cleric in his 60s who won Iran’s presidential election in 2021, has been seen as a favorite to eventually succeed Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is the Islamic Republic’s top authority. 

The incident comes at a time of turmoil in the Middle East over the war in Gaza between Israel and Iran-backed Hamas — designated a terrorist organization by the US and European Union. It has edged Iran and Israel close to all-out conflict and led to other Tehran-supported groups, including the Houthis in Yemen and Shiite militias in Iraq, to attack US bases and commercial ships in the Red Sea.

Raisi’s air fleet consisted of three helicopters with high-ranking officials including Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported. Amirabdollahian was believed to be on board Raisi’s aircraft at the time.

The US is closely following reports of the incident, a State Department spokesperson said without further comment.

Iranian television aired live footage of scores of ambulances amid heavy rain and fog. A reporter, stationed near the rescue teams, mentioned the challenges in reaching the crash site, citing impassable roads due to mud and the remote nature of the area. Aerial searches using helicopters and drones were impossible due to the adverse weather conditions, he said.

State television broadcast live footage from the country’s holy shrine in the northeastern city of Mashhad, Raisi’s birthplace, showing pilgrims praying for Raisi. Others believed to be on board Raisi’s helicopter included the governor of East Azerbaijan province and the supreme leader’s representative in the city of Tabriz, Iranian media said. 

Both Raisi and Amirabdollahian oversaw the restoration of Iran’s diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia through a Chinese-brokered deal announced in March 2023. But it was a time when there was also a stalemate in negotiations to revive Iran’s nuclear deal with world power and lift economic sanctions. 

Read more: Understanding the Dangerous Israel-Iran Conflict: QuickTake

Earlier Sunday, Raisi met his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev to inaugurate a jointly developed dam on the border between the two countries. The incident occurred while Raisi was returning from Iran’s East Azerbaijan province.

Raisi’s ascension to the presidency came after eight years under the relative moderate Hassan Rouhani, who was central to the nuclear accord that former President Donald Trump withdrew the US from in 2018. 

The US exit from the deal empowered Iran’s hardliners, who were always critical of the agreement. Raisi was sanctioned in 2019 by the Trump administration, which cited his role in a deadly crackdown a decade earlier on protesters alleging vote fraud.

During his presidential election campaign he received support from the highest levels of Iran’s religious and military establishment, and put all of Iran’s state institutions and levers of power in the hands of hardliners.

Raisi’s First Vice President is Mohammad Mokhber, who has represented Iran on many recent overseas trips and who like many senior Iranian officials is subject to US sanctions. 

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