‘Technical failure’ caused Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s helicopter crash

The site of the tragic helicopter crash that claimed the life of Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi in the Varzaghan area, northwestern Iran, shown on May 20, 2024. — Reuters
  • Former Diplomat Zarif blames US for the tragic loss of President Raisi.
  • Antiquated US-manufactured Bell 212 helicopter transported Raisi and his delegation.
  • Iran enters a national period of mourning following President Raisi’s passing.

The nation of Iran is in a state of mourning after the untimely passing of President Ebrahim Raisi, who was seen as a likely candidate to follow Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The country’s official media outlet, Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), has attributed the catastrophic helicopter crash to a “technical malfunction”.

The tragic incident not only claimed the life of Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and prominent cleric Mohammad Ali Al-e Hashem from Tabriz, but also the lives of aviation staff when the helicopter encountered adverse weather and crashed in the mountains while returning from the East Azerbaijan province.

The remains of the helicopter carrying Raisi and others were discovered as teams searched through the night, braving snowstorm conditions. They were located early Monday morning, and no survivors were found among the wreckage.

A ceremonial farewell for President Raisi is scheduled for Tuesday in Tehran.

Following Raisi’s death, Supreme Leader Khamenei pronounced a five-day national mourning period. He has temporarily assigned the role of president to Iran’s First Vice-President Mohammad Mokhber and instructed the prompt organization of an election to choose a permanent successor in accordance with constitutional guidelines.

Although Iran is experiencing heightened dissent over internal and global challenges, facing pressure over its nuclear ambitions and strained relations with Israel amidst the Gaza conflict, the possibility of intentional sabotage has been dismissed by state broadcasters.

Notwithstanding the official statement, ex-Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused the United States of bearing responsibility for the incident due to the impact of US-imposed sanctions on Iran’s aviation sector.

State-TV relayed Zarif’s proclamation that despite the 45 years of formidable challenges Iran has endured, the nation will rise above this latest tragedy as emphasized by the Supreme Leader.

Reviewing the sanctions imposed upon Iran, these restrictions have significantly exacerbated the struggles Iranians face, with the long-standing penalties standing as a testament to the resilience of the nation.

The aging Bell 212, which transported the 63-year-old head of state, has reportedly seen decades of service. According to the Washington Post, this helicopter model is a commercial adaptation of military helicopters used during the Vietnam War, and is in use worldwide by military and commercial operators.

Before the Iranian revolution in 1979, Iran was a major consumer of Bell helicopters; however, subsequent sanctions have greatly challenged the country’s access to spare parts and technical upgrades for their aircraft fleet.

According to a report by Al Jazeera, the stringent sanctions have significantly disrupted Iran’s aviation industry and its access to new aircraft and parts, with a notable rise in devastating aviation incidents occurring through the 1980s, 1990s, and the early 2000s.


— Additional reporting by Reuters

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