Home News Calls, search teams, drones: 17 hours to find Iran’s president

Calls, search teams, drones: 17 hours to find Iran’s president


Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his delegation of senior officials held a group prayer on Sunday shortly before their helicopter crashed. Someone suggested they have lunch together, but the president declined, saying he was in a hurry to get to his next destination.

Raisi boarded the plane and took a window seat. Foreign Minister Hussein Amir Abdullahian stopped to take photos with the crowd that filled the tarmac. He smiled, one hand on his heart, the other holding a brown briefcase.

At about 1 p.m., a convoy of three people Helicopter takes off The plane took off from a helipad on the border between Iran and Azerbaijan, with the president’s plane in the middle. But after about half an hour of flight, The President’s helicopter goes missing.

Passengers on the presidential helicopter were left without a response until someone answered. “I don’t know what happened,” Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Hashim said, sounding distraught. “I don’t feel well.” Two hours later, his phone went silent, too.

During the frantic 17-hour search, government officials began actively working to guard against possible threats from abroad, especially unrest at home, as they realized that an uprising led by women and girls would break out in 2022, demanding an end to the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, went on state television to reassure Iranians that they need not fear any breaches of national security, but officials scrambled. Iran’s armed forces were on high alert, fearing that enemies such as Israel or ISIS could carry out covert attacks. The Iranian government directed media outlets to report on the crash and control the flow of information, banning any rumors that the president was dead. The government deployed plainclothes security agents on the streets of Tehran and other large cities to prevent anti-government protests or celebrations of Mr. Raisi’s death, and the police and the intelligence ministry’s cybersecurity unit monitored posts by Iranians on social media.

The account of what happened in the hours after the crash was pieced together from accounts by senior Iranian officials who accompanied the president, reports and videos from state television, government statements, open-source reports and video footage, information from five Iranian officials (including two members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard), three Iranian diplomats, a former vice president, several Iranian journalists and a photographer who was at a crisis management center near the crash site and took part in the search.

The president and a delegation of senior officials travelled to the Iran-Azerbaijan border early Sunday to inaugurate a joint dam project. Video released by state media showed the sky overcast as three helicopters carrying them took off.

Aboard the helicopter carrying Raisi and Foreign Minister Amir Abdollahian were Hashem, the imam for Friday prayers in the northern city of Tabriz, the governor of East Azerbaijan province, Malik Rahmati, and General Seyyed Mehdi Mousavi of the Ansar Force of the Revolutionary Guards, who is the head of Iran’s secret service and the head of the presidential security service. The helicopter flew as planned but encountered thick fog in the rolling green mountains shortly after takeoff.

Ministers of Transport Mehrdad Bazrpash and Gholam-Hossein Esmaili, The president’s chief of staff and the president’s chief of staff were in the lead helicopter, and as it emerged from the fog they noticed a commotion in the cockpit.

Recalling the first hours, Basil Pash told state television that he asked the pilot what was happening. The pilot told him they had lost track of the presidential helicopter and that it was not responding to radio calls, suggesting it might have made an emergency landing. Basil Pash said the pilot turned around and circled the area several times, but fog obscured vision and it was too dangerous to land in the valley.

Two helicopters eventually landed at a copper mine in the mountains of northwestern Iran, 46 miles from the nearest town. Within hours, a modest office building had been transformed into a makeshift crisis management center, housing hundreds of officials, military commanders and even hikers and off-road motorcyclists, Azin Hajiji, a Tabriz-based photographer who was at the center, said in a telephone interview.

On state television, Esmaili said he called the cell phones of Raisi, Amir Abdullahian, Al Hashim and another official but received no answer.

He called the pilot, but it was Mr. Hashim who answered the phone.

“Where are you?” Esmaili asked, recalling the conversation. “What happened? Can you give us a signal so we can locate you? Can you see the others? Are they all right?”

“I’m in the middle of the woods,” he said. “I’m all alone. I can’t see anybody.”

When Mr. Esmaili pressed him for more details, the pastor described being in a forest with burned trees. Later in the call, his voice began to fade and he sounded more confused. After about two hours, he stopped responding.

Basil Pash called the National Air Control Center to ask for the helicopter’s coordinates, but technicians there could only provide an approximate crash area, and because of the remote location, they were unable to track the phone signal.

The exact location remained unclear. The helicopter did not send any signals. Panic set in as officials in other helicopters realized the president’s plane had crashed violently, leaving Lacey, widely seen as the most likely successor to the supreme leader, and others on board seriously injured or dead.

Officials notified Tehran and requested emergency search and rescue teams to the scene, but they took hours to arrive because of bad weather and narrow roads winding through the mountains, Basil Pash said in an interview with state television.

Basil Pash said that instead of waiting for the rescue team, the presidential officials set out in a car with the copper mine workers. But due to fog, strong winds and heavy rain, they were forced to abandon the car and walk to a nearby village, hoping that locals could help them find the crash site. He said that these efforts were in vain and they returned to the mine.

In Tehran, First Vice President Mohammad Moheb, now acting president, chaired a scheduled cabinet meeting. Although he knew about the crash and Raisi’s possible death, he continued to conduct the government’s daily business and did not inform the rest of the cabinet of the news until after the meeting, according to government spokesman Ali Bahadori Jahromi.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was informed of the accident as soon as officials confirmed the president’s helicopter was missing, according to a Guard member and government official who was briefed on the meeting but was not authorized to discuss it publicly. Khamenei convened an emergency meeting of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council at his home and advised its members to maintain order and show strength.

Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance has convened media organizations and drawn up reporting guidelines, as well as issued a gag order against suggesting the president and other officials might be dead, according to four Iranian journalists who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals.

In the early afternoon, state television carried the first report that the president’s helicopter had made a “hard landing.” For hours, false information circulated in the official and semi-official news media, with some reporting that Mr. Raisi was driving back to Tabriz or that he was safe, or that the helicopter’s passengers said they all survived.

An Iranian businessman and a media analyst with large social media followings said in interviews that the Intelligence Ministry contacted them around 6 p.m. on Sunday and asked them to delete their social posts about the crash. Iran’s Guards Intelligence Department arrested a person who posted false information about the presidential helicopter, Fars News Agency reported on Thursday.

However, by around 11pm on Sunday, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance asked state media to instead broadcast a call to prayer and told them to prepare an official statement in the morning.

Back at the mines, General Hussein Salami, the commander-in-chief of the Guards Command Operations They walked into a conference room where a large screen projected a three-dimensional map of the crash area.

“It was a mess, and everyone was nervous,” said photographer Hajiji. “The search and rescue teams went out in batches, but when they came back they said they saw nothing. In the control center, people were shouting and running from one room to another, desperate to know the news.”

The Iranian Armed Forces issued a statement saying that Iran needed advanced drones to locate the crash site, but these drones had been deployed to the Red Sea, so Iran had to ask Turkey for help and asked it to provide drones. But in the end, an advanced Iranian drone returned from the Red Sea and found the crash site.

Mr. Hajihi, who was accompanying one of the rescue teams that set out on foot at dawn on Monday, said they spent an hour and a half climbing up a steep mountain and then descending through a muddy forest.

However, the first to arrive on the scene were volunteer motorcyclists. video In the photo, one of them is seen running through the woods, shouting “Haji Agha, Haji Agha,” while calling Lacey by his nickname. When he saw the broken tail of the helicopter, the charred wreckage and the luggage scattered on the ground, he shouted “O Allah, O Akbar, O Hussein,” which reminded him of Allah and the Shia Imam.

The armed forces said in a statement that the helicopter exploded on impact in a fireball, adding later that an initial investigation showed no signs of sabotage or bullets on the aircraft. But many officials questioned whether safety protocols were followed and why the president flew in stormy weather.

The bodies of Raisi and Amir Abdullahian were found near the rubble, burned beyond recognition, according to three Tehran officials, two guards and Hajiji who saw the bodies.

Mr. Lacey can be identified by his ring and Mr. Amir Abdullahian by his watch.

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