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International News: Iranian President and Foreign Minister missing after helicopter crash in East Azerbaijan province

Posted: Sunday, May 19, 2024. 1:57 pm CST.

By Horace Palacio: Rescuers are scouring the rugged terrain of northern Iran after a helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian crashed on Sunday, CNN reported. The crash occurred in Iran’s East Azerbaijan Province, and as night falls, the fate of the officials remains uncertain.

The incident happened early Sunday afternoon, sparking a massive search operation involving military drones and dozens of rescue teams, according to state media. Despite the intensive efforts, emergency crews have yet to reach the crash site due to poor weather conditions, including fog and extreme cold.

Officials report they have made intermittent contact with some passengers, providing a glimmer of hope. Both President Raisi’s official Instagram account and state television have called on Iranians to pray for the president and his entourage. In a video statement, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei reassured the nation, saying, “Everyone should pray for the health of this group of servants. … People of Iran, do not worry. There will be no disruption in the work of the country.”

The crash occurred as Raisi and Abdollahian were returning from a ceremony marking the opening of a dam on Iran’s border with Azerbaijan. While two other helicopters in the convoy landed safely, the president’s helicopter lost contact with them, according to Iranian Vice President for Executive Affairs Mohsen Mansouri.

Mansouri added that initial communications with two survivors indicated the accident might not have been severe. Rescue efforts are concentrated in the Dizmar Forest area, between the villages of Ozi and Pir Davood, as reported by IRNA. Residents of the northern Varzeqan region have reported hearing noises from the crash site.

The rescue operation faces significant challenges due to adverse weather and low visibility. Iranian Minister of Health Bahram Eynollahi stated on state TV that the crash site is shrouded in heavy fog, complicating the search efforts. “We have set up treatment facilities and deployed all medical resources, including emergency medicine, surgery, and ambulances,” Eynollahi said.

Attempts to deploy additional helicopters have been thwarted by the weather. The Commander of Iran’s 6th Air Force Base confirmed that unfavorable conditions hampered relief operations despite early efforts.

Neighboring countries Iraq and Azerbaijan have offered assistance, and the European Union has activated its Copernicus Emergency Management Service for satellite mapping of the area. “Upon Iranian request for assistance, we are activating the EU’s Copernicus EMS rapid response satellite mapping service in view of the helicopter accident reportedly carrying the President of Iran and its foreign minister,” tweeted European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič.

US President Joe Biden has been briefed on the situation, the White House reported.

President Ebrahim Raisi, a key figure in Iran’s political landscape, is seen as a potential successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. His election in 2021 was heavily influenced by the political elite, ensuring a virtually uncontested victory. Raisi is known for his adherence to the ideals of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and has taken a hardline stance on various domestic issues, including a crackdown on youth-led protests.

The outcome of this incident could have significant implications for Iran’s political stability, which is already under considerable strain due to economic and political challenges.

 

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