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Raisi’s Chopper Crash: The final moments & the last phone call | Gravitas highlights

Raisi’s Chopper Crash: The final moments & the last phone call | Gravitas highlights

posted at 10:34:27 UTC by WION via WION

In an interview with Iranian media, the Chief of Staff of Iran’s late President Ebrahim Raisi recalled the final moments before the chopper ferrying Iran’s President disappeared. The official says there was no fog that day, the weather was clear, and they were able to get in touch with one of the passengers of the ill-fated chopper after it disappeared. Gravitas brings you the details.

#iran #ebrahimraisi #gravitas

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Iranians gather at Valiasr Square in central Tehran on May 20 to mourn the deaths of President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and several others in a helicopter crash the previous day.

Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty Images

The crash that killed Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and several other top officials on Sunday was the latest high-profile deadly helicopter accident in recent years.

For most people, the death of retired NBA star Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter and seven others in a helicopter crash in California four years ago comes to mind. But in 2018, Thai businessman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, who owned the Leicester City soccer club, died along with four others in a helicopter crash. The previous year, Troy Gentry, then part of country music act Montgomery Gentry, was also killed in a crash in New Jersey.

An investigation of the crash that killed Bryant and the others aboard a Sikorsky S-76B concluded that the pilot became disoriented as the chopper flew into a cloud bank, thinking he was climbing when in fact he was plunging into a hillside. Pilot error was also blamed in the crash that killed Gentry, while an investigation of the crash involving Vichai concluded that the Leonardo AW169 helicopter was brought down by a failure of its rear rotor mechanism.

It’s impossible to say with certainty what may have caused the crash in Iran on Sunday that killed Raisi, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and the others. But one or more of the factors below may have played a part.

Could bad weather have been a factor in the fatal crash?

Early reports of the crash in Iran suggest that the helicopter was flying in a “foggy, mountainous region of the country’s northwest,” according to The Associated Press.

Poor weather conditions are a leading cause of helicopter, or rotor aircraft, crashes. According to an analysis presented at a 2021 forum of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, in 28% of all fatal helicopter crashes, weather was a factor.

“Wind was involved in most incidents but more rarely involved in fatalities. Bad visibility conditions due to a combination of low illumination and clouds were responsible for most fatal weather-related accidents,” the analysis says in its synopsis.

It notes that helicopters “typically operate at lower altitudes than fixed-wing aircraft and can take-off and land away from airports. Thus, helicopter pilots have decreased access to weather information due to connectivity issues or sparsity of weather coverage in those areas and at those altitudes.”

In February, five Marines were killed when their CH-53E Super Stallion — the largest helicopter operated by the U.S. military — crashed into mountains outside San Diego during a storm.

Helicopters are more dangerous than planes

While directly comparing the safety records of different modes of transportation is fraught with difficulties, an analysis conducted by the travel site The Points Guy in 2019 suggests that airline flights are considerably safer than “non-scheduled helicopter flights.” However, those helicopter flights still scored much better for safety than driving or riding in a car or SUV or even “general aviation,” such as flights in private planes.

Because of automation, most airplanes are forgiving of a pilot’s momentary distraction, but “helicopters require a lot of concentration,” John Goglia, a former member of the National Transportation Safety Board, said earlier this year, speaking to PBS. “And so sometimes people will lose their focus, and [then] the consequences are severe.”

This Bell 212 helicopter of the Argentine air force, seen in March 2015, is similar to the one that crashed in Iran on Sunday.

Juan Mabromata/AFP via Getty Images

The helicopter that crashed in Iran was a Bell 212, a twin-engine civilian version of the venerable “Huey” UH-1 that became ubiquitous during the Vietnam War in the 1960s and ’70s.

The Aviation Safety Network, which maintains a database of accidents for various aircraft, shows that the Bell 212 and its military equivalents have experienced about 30 accidents since 2017, eight of them causing fatalities.

The Bell 212 in Iran was probably one bought in the 1970s while the Shah was still in power, prior to the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, according to The National, the state-run English-language daily in the United Arab Emirates.

U.S. sanctions have made spare parts hard to obtain

According to the same paper, after the Shah was overthrown, Iran continued to use many U.S.-made aircraft “but faced difficulty obtaining spare parts due to American sanctions.”

Iran’s semiofficial Mehr News Agency in March quoted the deputy of the scientific department of knowledge-based economy development, Javad Mashayekh, as saying that the country had finally become 100% self-sufficient in supplying airplane spare parts. It did not say anything specifically about parts for helicopters.

Mashayekh was reported by Mehr News Agency as saying that previously Iran had been “highly dependent” on foreign sources for such parts and that U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran’s nuclear program “caused a challenge in this regard.”

In a commentary published by the Gulf International Forum, journalist Kourosh Ziabari wrote that “Iran’s aviation industry has been blighted by years of neglect, underinvestment, and grueling sanctions” and that “accidents are recurrent and air transportation safety standards have steadily fallen.”

Mysterious crashes have claimed the lives of politicians and rivals alike

Nothing immediate suggests sabotage as a possibility in the case of the helicopter crash in Iran, but using an aviation “accident” as a way to eliminate a national leader or political rival has been suspected in the past.

Last August, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, who led an abortive coup against the Kremlin, was killed when the private jet he was in plummeted into a field outside Moscow. Many believe the destruction of the plane was ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In April 1994, Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana, a Hutu, was killed when the aircraft he was in was shot down by a missile — an incident that triggered the Rwandan genocide. An inquiry did not bring charges against alleged culprits.

And in 1988, Pakistani President Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq was killed when the C-130 transport plane he was aboard suddenly crashed shortly after taking off from an airport in Pakistan’s eastern city of Bahawalpur. At the time, witnesses reported seeing the plane flying erratically and then nosing down.

An official Pakistani report later concluded that “in the absence of a technical reason, the only other possible cause of the accident is the occurrence of a criminal act or sabotage.”

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Ayatollah Ali Khamenei held the service at Tehran University, the caskets of the dead draped in Iranian flags with their pictures on them. Khamenei was joined by senior figures from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, and the leader of Hamas Ismail Haniyeh. Following Khamenei’s service the coffins were loaded onto a semi-truck and a procession was held through the streets of Tehran.

Videos

Iran’s Supreme Leader and Hamas chief at funeral ceremony for Iranian president

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei held the service at Tehran University, the caskets of the dead draped in Iranian flags with their pictures on them. Khamenei was joined by senior figures from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, and the leader of Hamas Ismail Haniyeh. Following Khamenei’s service the coffins were loaded onto a semi-truck and a procession was held through the streets of Tehran.

Farewell ceremony held in Tehran for late president Raisi

A farewell ceremony was held in Tehran late Tuesday for Iran’s late president, foreign minister and others killed in a weekend helicopter crash. (AP Video/Mohsen Ganji).

Photos

Updated [hour]:[minute] [AMPM] [timezone], [monthFull] [day], [year]  

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran’s supreme leader and representatives of militia groups he backs in the Middle East prayed Wednesday over the coffins of the country’s late president, foreign minister and other officials killed in a helicopter crash earlier this week. Hundreds of thousands of people later followed a procession honoring the dead down Tehran’s main boulevard.

Iran’s Shiite theocracy views mass demonstrations as crucial evidence of its legitimacy and the people’s support.

Still, Wednesday’s funeral service for President Ebrahim Raisi and others saw a turnout that onlookers described as noticeably lower than the 2020 procession honoring Revolutionary Guard general Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad.

Many of the participants said they came to Tehran for the ceremony from other cities and towns across the Islamic Republic, an indication of how those in Iran’s capital viewed Raisi, who won the presidency in a record low turnout and later oversaw repeated crackdowns on dissent — including in the wake of the 2022 death of Mahsa Amini that sparked street protests over Iran’s mandatory hijab, or headscarf.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who had openly wept for Soleimani, also remained composed while reciting the standard prayer for the dead.

“Oh Allah, we didn’t see anything but good from him,” Khamenei said in Arabic, the language of Islam’s holy book, the Quran. Iran’s acting president, Mohammad Mokhber, stood nearby and openly cried.

The death of Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and six others in the crash on Sunday comes at a politically sensitive moment for Iran, both at home and abroad.

Raisi, who was 63, had been discussed as a possible successor to Iran’s supreme leader, the 85-year-old Khamenei. None of Iran’s living past presidents — other than Khamenei, who was president from 1981 until 1989 — could be seen in state television footage of Wednesday’s prayers. The authorities gave no explanation for their apparent absence.

Following the deadly helicopter crash, Iran set June 28 as the next presidential election. For now, there’s no clear favorite for the position among Iran’s political elite — particularly no one who is a Shiite cleric, like Raisi.

During Raisi’s term in office, Iran launched an unprecedented attack on Israel last month as its war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip rages on. Iran has supported Hamas throughout the war and provided weaponry to the militants.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh attended the prayers Wednesday morning, just two days after the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor said he’d seek an arrest warrant for him and others over the Oct. 7 attack that sparked the latest Israel-Hamas war. In the unprecedented assault on southern Israel, Hamas-led militants killed 1,200 people and seized 250 hostage.

AP correspondent Charles de Ledesma reports on a day of mourning for Iran.

The ICC prosecutor is also seeking arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for their conduct in the war, which has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and also hundreds in the West Bank.

Haniyeh recounted Raisi telling him this year that the Oct. 7 attack was an “earthquake in the heart of the Zionist entity.” In a later meeting with Khamenei, the supreme leader told Haniyeh that the “destruction of the Zionist regime is feasible and, God willing, the day in which Palestine will be created from the sea to river will arrive.”

Haniyeh’s presence likely signaled Khamenei intends to continue his policy of arming militant groups in the wider Mideast — including Hamas, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Yemen’s Houthi rebels — as a way to pressure its adversaries like Israel and the United States. Mourners at the ceremony chanted: “Death to Israel!”

Hezbollah and Houthi representatives were also in attendance.

Statesmen from the Mideast and beyond attended a later memorial service, including Iraq’s Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and Tunisian President Kais Saied.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry was also there. Cairo and Tehran have been discussing reestablishing ties severed after the the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

A single black turban was placed over Raisi’s casket during the morning service, which signifies he was considered a direct descendent of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. People then carried the coffins out on their shoulders as chants of “Death to America!” erupted outside.

People openly wept during the procession and beat their chests, a common sign of grief in the Shiite culture. They tossed scarves and other possessions up to the semitruck driving the caskets through Tehran, with coffin attendants brushing the items against the caskets in a gesture of blessing.

One man said he and his friends took a nearly seven-hour bus trip to attend the procession. Many expressed their sympathies for the dead, including Raisi.

“He was our president, the others were pilots and a minister, how can I be indifferent about their loss?” asked Sima Rahmani, a 27-year-old Tehran woman wearing a loose headscarf despite the risk of detention by police.

Prosecutors have warned people against showing any public signs of celebrating Raisi’s death and a heavy security force presence has been seen in Tehran since the crash. Many shops and stores noticeably remained open while some took off early for a long weekend despite bulk text messages and state TV broadcasting times for the procession.

“I did not vote for Raisi in 2021 election, but he was the president of all people,” said Morteza Nemati, a 28-year-old physics student at Tehran Azad University. “My presence is a way of paying tribute to him.”

Meanwhile, an Iranian official offered a new accounting of Sunday’s crash, further fueling the theory that bad weather had led to it. Gholamhossein Esmaili, who traveled in one of the two other helicopters in Raisi’s entourage, told state TV that weather had been fine when the aircraft took off. But Raisi’s helicopter disappeared into heavy clouds and the others couldn’t reach the aircraft by radio.

The Friday prayer leader from the city of Tabriz, Mohammad Ali Ale-Hashem, who was also on board, somehow answered two mobile phone calls after the crash, saying he was hurt, Esmaili said.

It wasn’t clear why Iran could not at that point track the phone signal. A Turkish drone helped find the crash site. Tehran had even asked the U.S., its longtime foe, for help.

“The conditions of the bodies found showed that they (died) immediately after the incident,” Esmaili said. “But Ayatollah Ale-Hashem (died) a few hours after the incident.”

___

Associated Press writers Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran; Joseph Krauss in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Samy Magdy in Cairo; and Munir Ahmed and Riazat Butt in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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