Iran has been gripped with fear over the fate of President Ebrahim Raisi after the helicopter carrying him and his foreign minister crashed yesterday as it was crossing mountain terrain in heavy fog on the way back from a visit to the border with Azerbaijan.

Raisi was heading to the north-eastern city of Tabriz after returning from an Iran-Azerbaijan border area when the incident occurred. He had been visiting the Iran-Azerbaijan border, where he opened the Qiz Qalasi and Khodaafarin dams with his Azeri counterpart Ilham Aliyev, an Iranian official said.

The official Instagram account of Iranian Ebrahim Raisi and state television yesterday urged Iranians to pray for the president and his entourage after the helicopter they were traveling in crashed in the country’s East Azerbaijan Province.

“We call on fellow countrymen to pray for the wellbeing of the President and companions,” a story shared on Raisi’s Instagram said. At press time, Iranian state news agency IRNA said Raisi’s condition was unknown.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei expressed concern about the missing helicopter in a meeting with families of IRGC personnel. “We hope that God returns the honourable president and his companions to the arms of the nation. All must pray for the health of this group of civil servants. The Iranian nation must not be concerned or worried, there will be no disruption in the work of the country,” Khamenei said.

“20 rescue teams and drones have been sent to the area, but due to the impassability of the area, its mountainous and forest conditions, as well as unfavorable weather conditions, especially heavy fog, the search and rescue operation will take time,” IRNA said.

But Babak Yektaparast, the spokesperson for the emergency services organisation, later said aerial searches became untenable shortly after darkness fell.

“Unfortunately, continuing aerial operations was no longer possible due to intense fog across the region,” he said, adding that more ambulances were dispatched. But the official stressed that air ambulances are standing prepared in Tabriz and Tehran.

Related News

Raisi, 63, was elected president on his second attempt in 2021. He is seen as a hardline cleric and regarded as a potential successor one day to Ayatollah Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader since 1989. Since taking office has ordered a tightening of morality laws, overseen a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests and pushed hard in nuclear talks with world powers.

In 2019, the Supreme Leader named him to the powerful position of head of the judiciary. Raisi was also elected as deputy chairman of the Assembly of Experts, the 88-member clerical body responsible for electing the next Supreme Leader.

An official said the lives of Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein 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.

The bad weather was complicating rescue efforts, the state news agency IRNA reported at press time. State TV stopped all its regular programming to show prayers being held for Raisi across the country and, in a corner of the screen, live coverage of rescue teams searching the mountainous area on foot in heavy fog.

In Iran’s dual political system, split between the clerical establishment and the government, it is the supreme leader rather than the president who has the final say on all major policies. But many see Raisi as a strong contender to succeed his 85-year-old mentor, Khamenei, who has strongly endorsed Raisi’s main policies.

Interior Minister Ahmed Vahidi told state TV only that one of the helicopters in a group of three had come down hard, and that authorities were awaiting further details.

VERIFIED: Nigerians (home & diaspora) can now be paid in US Dollars. Earn up to $17,000 (₦27 million) with premium domains. Click here to start