© EPA/Pavel Bednaakov/Krermlin PoolIranian President Ebrahim Raisi
Rescue crews searched into the night on May 19 for a downed helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, and other government officials that Iranian official news agency IRNA said was involved in a "hard landing" in foggy weather in a remote area of northwestern Iran.

The Iranian government said earlier on May 19 that the helicopter was one of three flying in a convoy that was traveling near the border with Azerbaijan.

Two of the helicopters reportedly landed safely in the city of Tabriz, but the third helicopter carrying the president and the other officials did not, setting off a massive search operation that continued after darkness fell in the mountainous and forested area where the helicopter went down.

State television reported that contact had been made with one of the passengers on the helicopter and one of the flight crew, raising hopes about the situation, but no details were provided about the condition of anyone involved. State television later reported that the helicopter had been found, but the Iranian Red Crescent denied the report.

The commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in Iran's East Azerbaijan Province was quoted by state media as saying a signal had been detected from the cell phone of one of the passengers on board the helicopter, and members of the IRGC were heading to the area.

Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said difficult weather conditions were hampering the rescue teams' efforts to reach the site.

"We are awaiting further details," Vahidi said, referring to the incident as a "hard landing" and emphasizing that "emergency workers are on the way."

Rescue teams were searching on foot in heavy rain and fog, according to images posted by IRNA on X, formerly Twitter.

Earlier in the day IRNA reported that a rescue helicopter was forced to return after it was unable to land because of fog.

Hours after the search began, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a brief statement late calling for prayers.
"We hope God returns the president and his companions to the nation's embrace. Everyone should pray for them. The people of Iran don't need to worry. The country's affairs will not be disrupted."
State TV showed people praying at the Imam Reza Shrine in the city of Mashhad, one of Shi'ite Islam's holiest sites, as well as in Qom and other locations across the country.

Given the difficulty of the search, Iran requested assistance, according to Janez Lenarcic, the European commissioner for crisis management, who said on X that the EU's Copernicus satellite mapping service had been activated to help locate the helicopter.

Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian had been in Azerbaijan earlier on May 19 to inaugurate a dam with Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev, who responded on X, to the news that Raisi's helicopter had not landed safely.
"Today, after bidding a friendly farewell to the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ebrahim Raisi, we were profoundly troubled by the news of a helicopter carrying the top delegation crash-landing in Iran. Our prayers to Allah Almighty are with President Ebrahim Raisi and the accompanying delegation. As a neighbor, friend, and brotherly country, the Republic of Azerbaijan stands ready to offer any assistance needed."
© OpenStreetMap
Armenia and Iraq expressed shock over the news and said they were available to help.

The Armenian Foreign Ministry said on X that its "thoughts & prayers" were with Raisi, Amir-Abdollahian, and all others reported to be onboard the helicopter. "As rescue operations continue, #Armenia, as a close & friendly neighbor of Iran, is ready to provide all necessary support," it said.

Iraq also offered help in the search and rescue efforts, according to government spokesman Bassem al-Awadi. Prime Minister Mohamed Shia al-Sudani instructed the Interior Ministry, the Iraqi Red Crescent, and other relevant authorities "to offer the Islamic Republic of Iran the available resources to aid in the search for the Iranian president's aircraft," al-Awadi said in the statement.

Turkey and Russia were among the other countries that offered to help with the search.

The U.S. State Department, responding to a request for comment from RFE/RL, said it was
"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."
European Council President Charles Michel reacted to reports about the incident on X.
"Following closely reports that the helicopter carrying the Iranian President and the foreign minister has been forced to land unexpectedly and their condition not yet clear. Together with EU member states and partners, we are monitoring the situation closely."
Raisi was traveling in Iran's East Azerbaijan Province. State TV described the location of the incident as being near Jolfa, a city on the border with the country of Azerbaijan, some 600 kilometers northwest of the Iranian capital, Tehran.

Raisi, 63, is a hard-liner who won Iran's 2021 presidential election after leading the country's judiciary. He is viewed as a protege of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Raisi has been sanctioned by the United States in part over his involvement in the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988 at the end of the bloody Iran-Iraq War.

Some reports have noted that because of international sanctions it has been difficult for Iran to obtain parts for its aging helicopter fleet.

Iranian law stipulates that if the president dies, power is transferred to the first vice president. A council consisting of the speaker of the Islamic Consultative Assembly, the head of the judicial power, and the first vice president must arrange for a new president to be elected within 50 days. The current first vice president of Iran is Mohammad Mokhber.