Helicopter Carrying Iranian President Makes ‘Rough Landing’ Near Jolfa, Rescue Operation Underway: State Media

Iran Azerbaijan

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi experienced a “rough landing” on Sunday, Iranian state media reported, without providing further details. Some began urging the public to pray for Raisi and the others on board as rescue crews sped through a foggy, rural forest where his helicopter was believed to be located.

Raisi was traveling in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province. State TV reported that the incident occurred near Jolfa, a city on the border with Azerbaijan, approximately 600 kilometers (375 miles) northwest of Tehran, Iran’s capital. Later, the TV placed it farther east near the village of Uzi, but details remained contradictory.

Traveling with Raisi were Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian, the governor of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province, and other officials and bodyguards, according to the state-run IRNA news agency. A local government official used the term “crash” to describe the event, but he admitted to an Iranian newspaper that he had not yet arrived at the scene.

Neither IRNA nor state TV provided any information about Raisi’s condition. However, hard-liners urged the public to pray for him. State TV later broadcast images of the faithful praying at Imam Reza Shrine in the city of Mashhad, one of Shiite Islam’s holiest sites, as well as in Qom and other locations across the country.

“The respected president and colleagues were on their way back in helicopters, and one of the helicopters was forced to have a hard landing due to poor weather and fog,” Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said in comments broadcast on state TV. “Various rescue teams are en route to the area, but due to the severe weather and fog, it may take time for them to reach the helicopter.”

He continued, “The area is somewhat rugged, and communication is a challenge. We are waiting for rescue teams to reach the landing site and provide us with more information.”

Rescuers were attempting to reach the site, state TV reported, but were hindered by severe weather conditions. Heavy rain, fog, and some wind had been reported. IRNA referred to the area as a “forest,” which is known to be mountainous as well. State TV showed footage of SUVs traveling quickly through a wooded area.

A rescue helicopter attempted to reach the area where authorities believe Raisi’s helicopter was, but it could not land due to the dense fog, emergency services spokesperson Babak Yektaparast told IRNA.

Raisi had visited the border with Azerbaijan earlier Sunday to dedicate a dam with Azerbaijan’s President, Ilham Aliyev. The dam is the third one built by the two countries on the Aras River. The visit occurred despite chilly relations between the two countries, including over an armed attack on Azerbaijan’s embassy in Tehran in 2023 and Azerbaijan’s diplomatic ties with Israel, which Iran’s Shiite theocracy considers its primary enemy in the region.

Iran operates various helicopters within the country, but obtaining parts for them is difficult due to international sanctions. Its military air fleet also primarily dates back to the period before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Raisi, 63, is a hard-liner who previously led the country’s judiciary. He is regarded as a protégé of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and some experts believe he may take over after Khamenei, who is 85, passes away or resigns from his position.

Raisi won Iran’s 2021 presidential election, which had the lowest voter turnout in the Islamic Republic’s history. Raisi is subject to U.S. sanctions, in part due to his participation in the mass executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988 at the conclusion of the bloody Iran-Iraq war.

Under Raisi’s leadership, Iran now enriches uranium to levels close to weapons-grade and obstructs international inspections. Iran has provided Russia with weaponry for its war in Ukraine and has launched a large-scale drone and missile attack on Israel during its conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. It has also continued to equip proxy groups in the Middle East, such as the Houthi rebels in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The U.S. State Department stated that it was “closely monitoring reports of a potential hard landing of a helicopter in Iran carrying the Iranian president and foreign minister.”

It added, “We have no further comment at this time.”