A helicopter carrying Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi takes off at the Iran-Azerbaijan border before crashing.

A helicopter carrying Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi takes off at the Iran-Azerbaijan border before crashing.

In a devastating turn of events, Iran is grappling with the sudden loss of President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, and several high-ranking officials following a helicopter crash on May 19. The crash, initially attributed to unfavorable weather conditions, has sent shockwaves through the nation and raised questions about the safety and maintenance of Iran's aging aviation fleet.

Iranian officials confirmed the tragic deaths early on May 20, citing severe weather as the primary cause of the accident. The helicopter, an older model purchased during the reign of Reza Shah Pahlavi, has drawn scrutiny due to its age and condition. "The oldest version of this helicopter was developed in 1979, and Iran likely acquired it around that time," remarked Osman Gunduz, president of the Azerbaijan Internet Forum. He criticized the use of such outdated equipment for transporting the nation's highest officials.

The crash occurred as President Raisi and his delegation were returning from an official visit to Tabriz. According to Sabir Rustamkhanli, a member of the Milli Majlis Committee on International Relations and Interparliamentary Relations, the incident triggered an international response, with countries sending rescuers and deploying satellite technology to aid in the search efforts. Despite the challenging weather, two other helicopters traveling with the president’s aircraft reached their destination safely.

Rustamkhanli, in an interview with Turan, reflected on the events leading up to the crash, noting that President Raisi had been in good spirits following a meeting with the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev. "There were alternative routes that could have avoided the fog and drizzle, but fate had other plans," he said, emphasizing that all potential causes of the crash, including the possibility of foul play, would be thoroughly investigated.

Elkhan Shahinoglu, head of the Atlas Research Center, pointed to Iran's longstanding issues with its aviation fleet, exacerbated by international sanctions that have hindered the purchase and maintenance of aircraft. "While multiple theories have emerged, the explanation of adverse weather conditions seems most plausible," he told Radio Azadlig. He also hinted at possible internal political strife, suggesting that the crash could reflect deeper conflicts within Iran’s ruling factions.

Political commentator Zardusht Alizadeh highlighted the formation of an investigative commission to probe the crash. "The helicopter's black box will be crucial in understanding the malfunction of its systems," he noted. Alizadeh underscored the extreme weather conditions at the time, which he believes were the primary cause of the accident.

The helicopter crash occurred just a day after a significant diplomatic event where Presidents Raisi and Aliyev inaugurated the "Khudaferin" and "Maiden Tower" hydropower stations on the Araz River, symbolizing a strengthening of bilateral ties between Iran and Azerbaijan. This event marked a notable thaw in relations following periods of tension and mutual accusations.

In his remarks at the opening ceremony, President Aliyev stressed the importance of regional cooperation and the detrimental impact of external interference. "The development of our region must be determined by the will of the people living here, not by those thousands of kilometers away," he declared.

The tragic incident has not only plunged Iran into mourning but also cast a shadow over the recent diplomatic achievements with Azerbaijan. As the nation awaits the findings of the investigative commission, the focus remains on ensuring the safety and reliability of its transportation infrastructure to prevent such tragedies in the future.

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