Media reports say a helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, the country’s foreign minister and other officials apparently crashed in the mountainous northwest reaches of Iran on May 19.  News of the helicopter crash involving Iranian President Raisi is a top trending item in media outlets. 

President Raisi was reportedly traveling in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province.  Iranian media reports says the helicopter of President Raisi and two more copters were en route to the city of Tabriz after the president and his Azerbaijani counterpart inaugurated Qiz Qalasi Dam at the border between the two countries, when his helicopter crashed upon landing in Varzaqan region on Sunday.  Citing Iranian state-run TV, some media outlets said a “hard landing” happened near Jolfa,  Later, state-run TV put it farther east near the village of Uzi, but details remained contradictory.

IRNA reports that Iran’s Vice-President for Executive Affairs Mohsen Mansouri said yesterday that two members of President Ebrahim Raisi’s entourage have contacted rescue teams, and this shows that the air incident involving their helicopter has not been rough.

The incident sparked a massive rescue operation in a fog-shrouded forest.  Rescue teams, including armed forces, reportedly combed the rocky area and the hilly terrain near the city of Varzaqan in East Azarbaijan province despite foggy and rainy weather.

IRNA says the president of the Iranian Red Crescent Society (IRCS) Pir-Hossein Kolivand today confirmed that rescue and search teams have identified President Ebrahim Raisi’s crashed chopper.

“73 rescue teams are present in the search area of the helicopter in Tawal village with advanced and specialized equipment”, he added, according to IRNA.

Earlier, the Red Crescent’s National Emergency Management Headquarters reportedly announced that its rescue teams have moved to the 2 identified hot spots identified by a Turkish drone.

“Red Crescent rescue teams are moving towards the possible landing place of the helicopter,” it said after Turkey's high-altitude long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle named Akinji detected a hot spot that probably belongs to the place where the helicopter crashed.

IRNA says an aide to the Russian president has announced that two advanced aircraft with special helicopters and 50 professional mountain rescuers will join Iranian teams in their ongoing search operations for a crashed chopper carrying the Iranian president and his entourage.

According to IRNA, Igor Levitin called Iran’s First Vice-President Mohammad Mokhbar again on Monday morning to tell him about an extraordinary meeting of Vladimir Putin with top Russian government officials and the Iranian ambassador to Moscow.

Meanwhile, Iranian semi-official news agency Mehr reports that the Iranian president, foreign minister and other occupants of the helicopter, including East Azerbaijan Province Governor Malek Rahmati, have been “martyred”.

There is still no official confirmation that Raisi is dead, but medics have said that they found “no signs” of life at the crash site.

CNN reports that military analyst Cedric Leighton says President Raisi was likely traveling on a Bell 212 helicopter acquired before the Iranian Revolution.  “Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was likely traveling on a Bell 212 helicopter that began operating in the late 1960s,” Leighton told CNN, noting that  the difficulty in obtaining spare parts could have played a factor in the crash.

The helicopter was first produced in the United States and then in Canada, Leighton, a retired US Air Force colonel, said.  “It was first introduced during the latter period of the Shah’s rule in 1976 in commercial form and it had a life before that in the US military, so the actual start of this particular type of helicopter may have been as early as the late 1960s,” said Leighton said.  “So spare parts would have definitely been an issue for the Iranians.”