Confusion surrounds search for helicopter carrying Iran's president after 'hard landing'

Confusion surrounds search for helicopter carrying Iran's president after 'hard landing'

Confusion surrounds the search for the crashed helicopter carrying Iran’s President after reports the aircraft had been found were denied.

State TV made the announcement of the discovery, having earlier said contact has been made with a passenger and a crew member.

But Iran’s Red Crescent emergency organisation denied the report the craft had been found.

Iranian government spokesman Ali Bahadori Jahromi acknowledged "we are experiencing difficult and complicated conditions" in the search."It is the right of the people and the media to be aware of the latest news about the president's helicopter accident, but considering the coordinates of the incident site and the weather conditions, there is 'no' new news whatsoever until now," he wrote on the social platform X.

"In these moments, patience, prayer and trust in relief groups are the way forward."Iranian TV is also broadcasting prayers for President Ebrahim Raisi after the aircraft was involved in what was described as a "hard landing”.

President Raisi was travelling in the aircraft in Iran's East Azerbaijan province at the time of the incident.

State TV reported the incident occurred near the city of Jolfa, about 375 miles (600km) northwest of the capital, Tehran.

Traveling with him were Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, the governor of Iran's East Azerbaijan province and other officials, the state-run IRNA news agency reported.

Iranian President Raisi in Eastern Azerbaijan before the crash (Office of the President of the Iran/Getty Images)
Iranian President Raisi in Eastern Azerbaijan before the crash (Office of the President of the Iran/Getty Images)

An anonymous Iranian official told Reuters that the lives of Raisi and Amirabdollahian were "at risk following the helicopter crash".

"We are still hopeful but information coming from the crash site is very concerning," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said people should not worry and insisted “no disruption will occur in Iran’s state affairs”, according to state TV.

He said he would pray for the president.

The European Commission said it was activating satellite mapping service to aid search efforts following a request for assistance from Iran.

The European Commission's Copernicus Emergency Management Service provides mapping products based on satellite imagery.

Crisis management commissioner Janez Lenarcic said on X that the service was activating its "rapid response mapping service in view of the helicopter accident.

Neither IRNA nor state TV offered any information on Raisi's condition but state TV said the cause of the crash was adverse weather conditions.

In comments on state TV, Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said: “The esteemed president and company were on their way back aboard some helicopters and one of the helicopters was forced to make a hard landing due to the bad weather and fog.

“Various rescue teams are on their way to the region but because of the poor weather and fogginess it might take time for them to reach the helicopter.”He added: "The region is a bit (rugged) and it's difficult to make contact. We are waiting for rescue teams to reach the landing site and give us more information."Rescuers were attempting to reach the site, state TV said, but had been hampered by poor weather conditions. There had been heavy rain and fog reported with some wind.

Rescue teams at work searching for the helicopter (via REUTERS)
Rescue teams at work searching for the helicopter (via REUTERS)

IRNA called the area a "forest" and the region is known to be mountainous as well. State TV aired images of SUVs racing through a wooded area.

The Iraqi government says it has offered to help with the search.Raisi was in Azerbaijan early Sunday to inaugurate a dam with Azerbaijan's President Aliyev. The dam is the third the two nations built on the Aras River.

The visit came despite chilly relations between the two nations, including over a gun attack on Azerbaijan's Embassy in Tehran in 2023, and Azerbaijan's diplomatic relations with Israel, which Iran's Shiite theocracy views as its main enemy in the region.Iran flies a variety of helicopters in the country, but international sanctions make it difficult to obtain parts for them. Its military air fleet also largely dates back to before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.Raisi, 63, is a hard-liner who formerly led the country's judiciary. He is viewed as a protege of Iran's Supreme Leader and some analysts have suggested he could replace the 85-year-old leader after his death or resignation from the role.Raisi won Iran's 2021 presidential election, a vote that saw the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic's history. Raisi is sanctioned by the U.S. in part over his involvement in the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988 at the end of the bloody Iran-Iraq war.Under Raisi, Iran now enriches uranium at nearly weapons-grade levels and hampers international inspections.

Iran has armed Russia in its war on Ukraine, as well as launched a massive drone-and-missile attack on Israel amid its war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

It also has continued arming proxy groups in the Mideast, like Yemen's Houthi rebels and Lebanon's Hezbollah.