Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his foreign minister died in a helicopter crash in mountainous terrain and freezing weather, Iranian state television confirmed on Monday, after search teams located the wreckage in East Azerbaijan province.

The head of Iran’s Red Crescent, Pirhossein Kolivand, earlier told state television that “no signs” of life were detected among the passengers of the helicopter that crashed on Sunday afternoon.

“After finding the helicopter, there has been no sign of life from the passengers so far,” state TV reported.

Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, East Azerbaijan Governor Malek Rahmati and Mohammad Ali Ale-Hashem, the Iranian supreme leader’s representative for the province, were in the same helicopter as Raisi.

An official told Reuters that the helicopter was found completely burned and all passengers were feared dead.

Rescue teams braved extreme weather and difficult terrain overnight to reach the wreckage in East Azerbaijan province. The area was covered in thick fog, with temperatures plummeting overnight and heavy rain turning to snow.

Hours after midnight, a Turkish drone identified a heat source suspected to be the helicopter wreckage and shared the coordinates with Iranian authorities, who sent a large rescue team to the scene.

Fears had grown for 63-year-old Raisi after contact was lost with the aircraft transporting him back from a visit to the Azerbaijani border. Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi had said the helicopter “made a forced landing” in adverse weather conditions.

Iranian state media said images of the wreckage indicated the helicopter had crashed into a mountain peak, although there was still no official word on the cause of the crash.

Acting President

According to the Iranian constitution, in the event of the death of the president, the vice president, with the approval of Iran’s supreme leader, must assume the responsibilities of the president.

The first vice president, 68-year-old Mohammad Mokhber, is now expected to become acting president.

Mokhber had already started receiving calls from foreign officials and governments in Raisi’s absence, according to state media.

A council consisting of the president of parliament, the head of the judiciary and the vice-president is then required to organize the election of a new president within a maximum period of 50 days.

Raisi, a principled and ideological ally of the supreme leader, was elected in 2021. He succeeded the moderate Hassan Rouhani, at a time when the economy was battered by US sanctions over Iran’s disputed nuclear program.

The president’s death comes at a time of rising regional tensions inflamed by Israel’s war on Gaza, which threatens to escalate into a wider conflict.

Last month, Iran launched an unprecedented attack on Israel after an Israeli strike killed senior Iranian Revolutionary Guard officers at Iran’s embassy in Damascus.

The president also oversaw a brutal crackdown on mass protests that followed the death in custody of Kurdish-Iranian woman Mahsa Amini in September 2022, following her arrest for allegedly violating dress rules.

In March 2023, regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia signed a surprise deal that restored diplomatic relations.


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