'President Raisi's helicopter disappeared seconds after its pilot told others to rise above clouds'

Tehran, May 22 (IANS): The helicopter carrying Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi disappeared within seconds after its pilot asked the two other accompanying aircraft to rise above the thick clouds they encountered while returning from the Azerbaijan border area on Sunday, the late leader's chief of staff revealed, as per local media reports.

Gholam-Hossein Esmaili, who was travelling in one of the other helicopters, also said that President Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and most of the others died instantly after their craft made a "hard landing" but the Supreme Leader's East Azerbaijan representative, Mohammad Ali Ale-Hashem, had survived for a few hours.

It was Ale-Hashem whom they had got in touch with and had reported the accident, though being in a disoriented state, and this led to hope that the others had survived too, Esmaili said in an interaction with the Islamic Republic of Iran News Network (IRINN) late on Tuesday.

He said that when the helicopters took off, weather conditions early on were normal, but around 45 minutes, the pilot of Raisi’s aircraft said he would increase altitude to avoid the dense clouds and directed the two accompanying helicopters to do the same. However, once the two helicopters started to climb, they lost sight of the President's helicopter,

As per Esmaili, after 30 seconds of flying over the clouds, the pilot noticed that the helicopter in the middle, with Raisi onboard, had disappeared and went back and circled the area several times to locate it. However, it was forced to abandon the search attempts due to poor visibility.

According to Esmaili, he made several attempts to contact Raisi’s aircraft through radio and was able to reach Ale-Hashem, who said that it had crashed into a valley.

"When we found the location of the accident, the conditions of the bodies indicated that Ayatollah Raisi and other companions had died instantly but Ale-Hashem… after several hours," he said.

Raisi had been returning from a meeting with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev after the two inaugurated a major dam project on their border. After his helicopter disappeared, an intense search was launched amid bad weather and darkness, and it was only over ten hours later that rescuers reached the scene and found him, Amir-Abdollahian and the others were dead.



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Title: 'President Raisi's helicopter disappeared seconds after its pilot told others to rise above clouds'

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