Iran’s President Raisi and foreign minister die in helicopter crash

Their helicopter crashed in fog

By Diplomacy Journal Lee Kap-soo


Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and the country’s foreign minister were found dead on May 20 hours after their helicopter crashed in fog, the AP reported.


Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in the Shiite theocracy, quickly named a little-known vice president as caretaker and insisted the government was in control, but the deaths marked yet another blow to a country beset by pressures at home and abroad.



Related to this, the government of the Republic of Korea expressed its deepest condolences and sympathy on May 20 to the bereaved families and the people of Iran over the passing of President Raisi and his accompanying entourage in the helicopter accident on May 19 and sincerely wishes that the Iranian people will overcome together their grief of having lost a leader in an unexpected accident.


The AP reported that Iran has offered no cause for the crash nor suggested sabotage brought down the helicopter, which fell in mountainous terrain in a sudden, intense fog.


In Tehran, Iran’s capital, businesses were open and children attended school Monday. However, there was a noticeable presence of both uniformed and plainclothes security forces.


Later in the day, hundreds of mourners crowded into downtown Vali-e-Asr square holding posters of Raisi and waving Palestinian flags. Some men clutched prayer beads and were visibly crying. Women wearing black chadors gathered together holding photos of the dead leader.



The crash comes as the Israel-Hamas war roils the region. Iran-backed Hamas led the attack that started the conflict, and Hezbollah, also supported by Tehran, has fired rockets at Israel. Last month, Iran launched its own unprecedented drone-and-missile attack on Israel.


A hard-liner who formerly led the country’s judiciary, Raisi, 63, was viewed as a protege of Khamenei. During his tenure, relations continued to deteriorate with the West as Iran enriched uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels and supplied bomb-carrying drones to Russia for its war in Ukraine.


His government has also faced years of mass protests over the ailing economy and women’s rights.

According to the AP, the crash killed all eight people aboard a Bell 212 helicopter that Iran purchased in the early 2000s, according to the state-run IRNA news agency. Among the dead were Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, the governor of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province, a senior cleric from Tabriz, a Revolutionary Guard official and three crew members, IRNA said.


Iran has flown Bell helicopters extensively since the shah’s era. But aircraft in Iran face a shortage of parts because of Western sanctions, and often fly without safety checks. Against that backdrop, former Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif sought to blame the United States for the crash.


“One of the main culprits of yesterday’s tragedy is the United States, which ... embargoed the sale of aircraft and aviation parts to Iran and does not allow the people of Iran to enjoy good aviation facilities,” Zarif told The Associated Press.


Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst and consultant, said Iran likely is tapping the black market for parts, but questioned whether Iran has the maintenance skills to keep older helicopters flying safely.


“Black-market parts and whatever local maintenance capabilities they’ve got — that’s not a good combination,” he said.


There are 15 Bell 212 helicopters with an average age of 35 years currently registered in Iran that could be in active use or in storage, according to aviation data firm Cirium.


State TV gave no immediate cause for the crash in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province. Footage released by IRNA showed the crash site, across a steep valley in a green mountain range.


U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the U.S. continues to monitor the situation surrounding the “very unfortunate helicopter crash” but has no insight into the cause. “I don’t necessarily see any broader regional security impacts at this point in time,” he said.