Helicopter carrying Iranian President Raisi crashes in Varzaqan

A helicopter transporting Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and other high-ranking officials crash-landed in the mountainous Varzaqan region of Iran on Sunday. The incident, reported by state media agency IRNA, occurred under severe weather conditions. As of now, rescue efforts are ongoing, and the condition of President Raisi remains unknown.

Accompanying Raisi were Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, East Azerbaijan Province Governor Malek Rahmati, and others. The convoy consisted of three helicopters, two of which landed safely. The crash happened as Raisi was returning from a visit to East Azerbaijan Province, where he had inaugurated a dam project alongside Azeri President Ilham Aliyev, near the Iran-Azerbaijan border.

The adverse weather, including heavy fog, has significantly hindered rescue operations. State TV initially alerted viewers about the crash, citing the challenging conditions faced by rescue teams. Pir Hossein Kolivand, head of the Iranian Red Crescent Society (IRCS), stated that 40 rapid response teams were dispatched to the crash site. He highlighted the difficulties posed by the rugged terrain and poor visibility, noting that drones and aerial searches were impractical under current conditions.

An anonymous Iranian official informed Reuters that the lives of all onboard were at risk, with concerning updates trickling in from the crash site. The Iranian military, including the elite Revolutionary Guard, has been mobilised for the search and rescue mission. Despite darkness and rain, which have further complicated efforts by creating mudslides, rescue teams have reached the vicinity of the crash.

In response to the accident, state TV interrupted its regular programming to broadcast prayers for Raisi, and the semi-official Fars news agency urged the public to pray for the president. International reactions have poured in, with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif expressing their concerns and well-wishes on social media platform X.

The US State Department and Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry have also extended their sympathies and support, with Azeri President Ilham Aliyev offering assistance and expressing deep concern over the incident.

Raisi, who has been the president of Iran since June 2021, has navigated a tumultuous period marked by economic challenges and social unrest. His presidency follows the tenure of moderate Hassan Rouhani and has been characterized by a hardline stance, particularly regarding Iran’s nuclear program and regional politics. His recent visit to East Azerbaijan and the dam inauguration underscored Iran’s ongoing infrastructural and diplomatic efforts despite these internal and external pressures.

The crash has intensified scrutiny on Raisi’s leadership, especially amidst ongoing economic difficulties and recent geopolitical tensions. The president’s visit to Pakistan last month aimed at boosting bilateral trade and mending strained relations following missile exchanges earlier this year, highlighting his active role in regional diplomacy.

This is a developing news story and will be updated as and when more information is received.

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