Iran President Ebrahim Raisi Killed in Helicopter Crash

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi was killed last Sunday after his helicopter crashed into a mountainside near the border with Azerbaijan in a heavy fog.

The 63-year-old president, who earned the nickname “The Butcher of Tehran,” was among the eight passengers and crew killed when the Bell helicopter crash-landed. Also killed in the crash were Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and the governor of East Azerbaijan.

The search for the crash site was difficult given the rough terrain and dense fog.

The Turkish government released drone footage early Monday morning showing a heat signature believed to be the crash site. Based on the drone’s coordinates, the helicopter went down on a steep mountainside slope about 12 miles south of the border with Azerbaijan.

The Iranian state-run IRNA news agency released footage later that morning showing soldiers reaching the site of the crash.

While it is unclear what caused the crash, Iran’s fleet of Bell helicopters dates from before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Following the shah’s ouster, Western sanctions on the new Islamic Republic of Iran prevented the country from purchasing new aircraft, forcing them to maintain their old fleet of Bell helicopters. However, parts for the older craft have grown scarce, making it impossible to keep the fleet properly maintained.

Following Sunday’s crash, former Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif laid the blame for Raisi’s death on the United States, arguing that US sanctions prevented Iran from acquiring more modern aircraft.

Zarif said in an interview last Monday that the helicopter crash and the death of President Raisi would be added to the list of the US’s “crimes against the Iranian people.”

Raisi, who was elected in 2020, was sanctioned by the United States for his part in the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988 following the Iran-Iraq war.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah announced hours after Raisi was confirmed dead that First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber had been named acting president. Mokhber is expected to serve for about 50 days before the country holds a mandatory election to replace Raisi.