Iran's president killed in helicopter crash, gov't confirms

President Ebrahim Raisi of Iran was confirmed dead Monday, a day after a helicopter he was aboard crashed in the Iranian province of East Azerbaijan. Photo by Iranian President press Office/UPI
1 of 3 | President Ebrahim Raisi of Iran was confirmed dead Monday, a day after a helicopter he was aboard crashed in the Iranian province of East Azerbaijan. Photo by Iranian President press Office/UPI | License Photo

May 20 (UPI) -- President Ebrahim Raisi of Iran died in a helicopter crash, the government confirmed Monday after search-and-rescue teams reached the wreckage of the aircraft and found no surviving passengers.

The government of Iran confirmed online that Raisi had been "martyred."


A statement on Raisi's official website says he and the eight other occupants of the helicopter have "ascended to the heavens."

The announcement came after Pir-Hossein Kolivand, head of the Iranian Red Crescent, said rescue teams had arrived at the site of the wreckage early Monday and found "no trace of survivors."


Footage of the bodies being transported from the crash site was posted online late Monday by Iran's officials IRNA news agency.

Iran's spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has announced five days of mourning.

"I offer my sincere condolences to the dear mother of Mr. Raisi and his honorable wife and other survivors of the president and the respected families of his companion," Khamenei said in a statement. "I ask for their patience and consolation and God's mercy for the departed."

Vice President Mohammad Mokhber will serve as Iran's interim leader until a new president is elected, he said. In the wake of Raisi's death, an election must be called within 50 days.

Raisi's helicopter crashed Sunday in the mountain region of Iran's East Azerbaijan Province, while two other helicopters that were part of his convoy safely landed.

The 63-year-old was returning from a visit to the Iranian border with Azerbaijan, where he inaugurated a dam on the Aras river with Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev.

The statement published on the president's website identified the other eight victims of the crash as Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, East Azerbaijan Gov. Malek Rahmati, Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Ale-Hashemand, Sardar Seyed Mehdi Mousavi, a member of the Ansar-al-Mahdi Corps, a pilot, a co-pilot and a crew chief.


Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters Sunday that intelligence authorities had informed him that at this point there was no evidence to suggest foul play was involved.

"It looks like an accident," he commented in an unrelated press conference. "It was very bad, foggy weather in northwest Iran where the copter had crashed. So, it looks like an accident, but it's still being fully investigated."

Mokhber led an emergency meeting of the Iranian cabinet cabinet, which issued a statement expressing its condolences.

"We assure our loyal, appreciative, and dear nation that the glorious path of service will continue," it said.

"With the help of Almighty God and the cooperation of the noble people, no disruption will occur in the jihadist management of the country."

Aliyev, who had been with Raisi before the crash, said in a statement that they were "deeply shocked" by the incident, stating the people of Iran have lost "a prominent statesman who served his country with dedication and loyalty all his life."

"His cherished memory will forever live in our hearts," he said.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said Pakistan will observe a day of mourning out of respect for Raisi "in solidarity with brotherly Iran."


President Vladimir Putin offered condolences to Iran on behalf of Russia.

And President Charles Michel of the European Council offered the European Union's condolences, stating their thoughts "go to the families."

Raisi was a hardline cleric often characterized as a potential replacement for Khamenei, who is 85 years old.

He is known as the Butcher of Tehran for his involvement in the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988. In November 2019, the United States sanctioned Raisi in part for having sat on the so-called death commission that ordered the executions of the political prisoner, most of whom were members of the opposition People's Mujahedin Organization of Iran, better known as the MEK.

Raisi's tenure as president has been marked by his implementation of oppressive policies and violent crack downs on dissent.

His death also comes as relations between Iran and the United States are at their most fraught in years.

Iran-backed Hamas ignited a war when it attacked Israel on Oct. 7. Emboldened by the conflict, other Iran proxy militias have been attacking Israel but also the U.S. and British military. In January, three U.S. soldiers in Jordan were killed in a drone strike U.S. officials blamed on Iran-backed militias.


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