Skip to main content

Iran declares 5 days of mourning after President Raisi, FM die in helicopter crash

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and other officials were in a helicopter with President Ebrahim Raisi when it went missing near the border with Azerbaijan.
JABRAYAIL, AZERBAIJAN - MAY 19: (EDITOR’S NOTE: This Handout image was provided by a third-party organization and may not adhere to Getty Images’ editorial policy.) In this handout image supplied by the Office of the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi Meets with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev as they inaugurate the Qiz Qalasi Dam, constructed on the Aras River on the joint borders between Iran and Azerbaijan, after which his helicopter has reportedly crashed near

Iranian state media reported at around 8:00 a.m. local time on Monday that President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and other officials had died in a helicopter crash.

Iranian state media said the bodies of Raisi and his entourage were found at the crash site, in the northwestern province of East Azerbaijan. Citing Pir Hossein Kolivand, head of Iran's Red Crescent Society, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported that their bodies were being transported to the city of Tabriz, in East Azerbaijan, for burial.

The official website for the office of the president confirmed Raisi’s death in the crash. The website also acknowledged the deaths of Amir-Abdollahian along with East Azerbaijan Governor Malek Rahmati, Tabriz Friday prayer leader Hojjatoleslam Al Hashem, the head of the president's security team and the helicopter's pilots and flight crew. 

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has declared five days of mourning. In a message posted to his official account on X, Khamenei described Raisi’s death as a “tragedy” while praising him as a “noble” and “selfless” person who dedicated his life to serving the people of Iran. 

The supreme leader also said that First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber, who will serve as interim president, will be in charge of the executive branch. Under Article 131 of the Iranian constitution, Mokhber, along with the heads of the legislature, Speaker Mohammad Bagher, and the judiciary, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, will prepare for presidential elections to be held within 50 days.

Later on Monday, Iranian state media outlets reported that new elections will be held on June 28. The decision was made following a meeting of the leaders of the government, judiciary and parliament, according to reports.

News of Raisi's death came after a 15-hour search that began Sunday, following reports that his helicopter was involved in a "hard landing” in the Dizmar forest, in northwestern Iran. Foggy and snowy conditions were reported in the area, which delayed search and rescue operations.

In the early hours of Monday local time, a Turkish drone identified a heat source suspected to be wreckage from the helicopter carrying Raisi, Turkey’s official Anadolu Agency reported at 8:16 p.m. EST (3:46 a.m. local time). Tasnim News Agency, citing an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander, reported that the heat source could be the site of Raisi's helicopter.

The Iranian president and his entourage had been returning from the Khoda Afarin region, in East Azerbaijan, when the helicopter went down.

Senior officials on board

Shortly after the crash, an Iranian official had told Reuters that Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian's lives were "at risk" after their helicopter went down while traveling through a mountainous area in thick fog.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian speaks during a UN Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, at UN headquarters in New York City on April 18, 2024. Amir-Abdollahian on Thursday warned that Tehran would make Israel "regret" any attack on his country in response to the Islamic republic's weekend barrage of missiles and drones. (Photo by ANGELA WEISS / AFP) (Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)
Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian speaks during a UN Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East at UN headquarters in New York City, April 18, 2024. Photo: ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

IRNA reported at 12:24 p.m. EST that the location of the helicopter was still unknown amid ongoing search efforts. 

Around 2:15 p.m. EST, more than five hours into the search effort, rescuers found wreckage from the helicopter, Reuters reported, citing Iranian official television. The report was later denied by the Iranian Red Crescent.

Around 3:15 p.m. EST, Tasnim reported that search teams were getting closer to the site and had received a signal from the helicopter as well as from a cell phone belonging to a Raisi aide. IRNA reported at 3:23 p.m. EST that the exact location of the incident had been identified.

IRNA reported at 4:03 p.m. EST (almost midnight local time) that rescuers “are being hampered due to darkness coupled with foggy weather conditions and the impassability of the region.” Al Jazeera quoted an Iranian army commander as saying that rain was turning into snow in the area. The Iranian Red Crescent estimated it would take them at least three hours to reach the site.

Raisi, 63, came to power in 2021 and was considered a potential successor to Khamenei.

Mohsen Mansouri, Iran’s deputy president for executive affairs, said two passengers aboard the helicopter had communicated with rescuers and that the location of the accident had been identified in a radius of 2 kilometers (1.25 miles), IRNA reported. The agency did not specify when the communication had occurred. 

The semi-official Tasnim news agency reported that there were three helicopters in the convoy, two of which landed safely. The Red Crescent's Kolivand told media that 40 rescue teams had been mobilzed in search for the president.

Earlier on Sunday, Raisi and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev had inaugurated the Qiz Qalasi Dam along their two countries’ border.

European help

In response to the incident, European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic announced in a post on X that the European Union was activating its Copernicus mapping service. Earlier, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani had ordered Iraq’s Red Crescent and the Interior Ministry to assist in the search for the helicopter, according to a government statement. The Foreign Ministry of Armenia said in a statement that the country was “ready to provide all necessary support.”

The Saudi Foreign Ministry released a statement asserting the kingdom’s “readiness to provide any assistance Iranian authorities need.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey was “deeply saddened” by the crash. “Turkey is in full contact and coordination” with the Iranian government, Erdogan wrote on X. The Turkish Foreign Ministry separately announced that Ankara had moved to join the search and rescue effort. Turkey’s disaster response agency said later Sunday that Iran had requested a search and rescue helicopter with night vision from Turkey. The agency added that a team of 32 rescuers and six vehicles had been dispatched to support the effort.

Meanwhile, members of Iran’s Supreme National Security Committee along with other senior government officials traveled to Tabriz, the closest large city to the accident, the New York Times reported, citing Iranian state media.

Iranian media quoted Khamenei saying in response to the incident, “The Iranian nation should not worry. No disruption will occur in the country's affairs.”

The US State Department released a statement Sunday reading, “We are closely following reports of a possible hard landing of a helicopter in Iran carrying the Iranian president and foreign minister. We have no further comment at this time.”

This developing story has been updated since initial publication.