Comment: It looks more and more like it was a tragic accident...

© Azin Haghighi/MOJ News Agency/AFPRescue team members at crash site of helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi • Varzaghan, northwestern Iran • May 20, 2024
The helicopter carrying Iran's Ebrahim Raisi first went missing when his aircraft convoy encountered a cloud bank, the news agency IRNA reported late on Tuesday, citing the deceased president's chief of staff Gholam-Hossein Esmaili, who was travelling in one of the accompanying aircraft.

According to Esmaili, weather conditions early on were normal, but 45 minutes into the flight the pilot of Raisi's aircraft said he would increase altitude to avoid a cloud and ordered the two accompanying helicopters to do the same. Once they started to gain altitude, the two other helicopters suddenly lost sight of Raisi's aircraft, which had been flying in the middle.

"After 30 seconds of flying over the clouds, our pilot noticed that the helicopter in the middle had disappeared," Esmaili stated, adding that his aircraft went back and circled the area several times in search of Raisi's helicopter. However, it was forced to abandon the search attempts due to poor visibility, and landed shortly afterwards at a nearby copper mine.

According to Esmaili, he made several attempts to contact Raisi's aircraft through radio devices, and was able to reach Mohammad Ali Ale-Hashem, an East Azerbaijan imam who accompanied the president. Ale-Hashem was able to convey that the president's helicopter had crashed into a valley.

Esmaili was cited as saying:
"When we found the location of the accident, the conditions of the bodies indicated that Ayatollah Raisi and other companions had died instantly but Ale-Hashem... after several hours."
Raisi and his entourage had been returning from a meeting with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, after the two leaders inaugurated a major dam project on the border between the two states. The helicopter Raisi was traveling in went down in the mountainous East Azerbaijan province in northwestern Iran. Following an over ten-hour search, which was challenging due to fog and rain, the president and seven more officials were found and confirmed dead. IRNA earlier reported that Raisi's helicopter crashed due to a "technical failure," but an official statement on the cause of the incident has not yet been released.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has declared five days of mourning in the country for the victims of the crash. Iranian First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber is now serving as acting president, while a snap election is scheduled for June 28.

Thousands of Iranians marched through Tehran on Tuesday as part of Raisi's funeral procession. The funeral is to take place later on Wednesday. The body will then be taken to Mashhad, the late president's hometown in the northeast part of Iran, where he will be buried.