Home iran Making Sense of Raisi’s Helicopter Crash: All You Need to Know

Making Sense of Raisi’s Helicopter Crash: All You Need to Know

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The Iranian state media’s coverage of the helicopter crash that killed President Ebrahim Raisi has been chaotic, with numerous conflicting reports leaving the public confused and questioning the reliability of the information provided.

The initial news was marked by inconsistencies, with various accounts of how and when the crash site was discovered.

It remains unclear whether these conflicting reports were intentionally released to distract the populace. Some analysts suggest it might be a tactic to manage public reaction and prepare them for more significant news.

This report aims to provide a clearer picture of what may have transpired by analyzing different sources and the varying accounts of the events.

State Media’s Initial Conflicting Reports

Fars News, linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), first reported on the incident in the form of a denial.

Its website refuted the “unsubstantiated claim” circulating on social media about “an incident involving the three helicopters carrying the president and his entourage.”

Fars News further claimed that the helicopter carrying President Raisi had an emergency landing due to heavy fog in the northern region of East Azarbaijan, and that the entourage’s return journey by car was underway.

Fars News published this picture, claiming Raisi had an emergency landing

Later, it retracted its initial statement and instead reported that one of the helicopters carrying Raisi’s entourage experienced a “hard landing.”

Iran’s interior minister was one of the first officials to repeat that claim, during a live interview with official state broadcaster IRIB. He also stated that communication had been established with some individuals on board, and rescue teams were en route to the crash site.

On IRIB, Iran’s Deputy President for Executive Affairs, Mohsen Mansouri, said that two members of the President’s entourage in the same helicopter had successfully contacted the rescue teams. Mansouri emphasized that this communication indicated the air “was not as severe” as initially feared.

Complicating the narrative, sources from the President’s office reportedly revealed that Mohammad Ali Al-Hashem, the Friday Prayer Leader of Tabriz, was on board with Raisi.

Al-Hashem allegedly contacted individuals, claiming he could hear rescue teams nearby. This claim raises questions about the later assertion that rescue teams could not locate the crash site due to a lack of functional GPS. If Al-Hashem’s communication was accurate, the contradictory statements regarding the GPS and the proximity of rescue teams warrant further scrutiny.

President Ebrahim Raisi (L), the Friday Prayer Imam of Tabriz Mohammad Ali Al-Hashem (R)

The deputy governor of East Azerbaijan also confirmed that three helicopters were involved; two landed safely, and one crashed.

State Media’s Shifting Narrative on Cause for Helicopter Crash

Nearly two hours after the initial reports surfaced, the IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News Agency announced that they had identified the approximate location of the helicopter crash involving President Raisi.

Using a map, they pinpointed the rough area of the wreckage but noted that severe weather conditions and challenging terrain were preventing rescue teams from reaching the site.

Tasnim News claims the “exact location” of helicopter crash, pinpointing it on a map

Initially, the interior minister and state media outlets like IRIB attributed President Raisi’s helicopter crash to bad weather conditions. However, as reports continued, mentions of the other two helicopters in the president’s entourage were gradually minimized.

This shift in the narrative raises questions. If the weather was indeed the primary cause, it is unclear why the other two helicopters reached their destination safely.

The evolving coverage by state media appeared to downplay these inconsistencies, continually focusing on the challenges posed by the weather instead.

Supreme Leader’s Remarks Amid Search Efforts

In the hours before Raisi’s death was announced, the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei made public remarks.

His comments about Raisi and the country’s future without him as president caught the attention of analysts. Khamenei also said that the people should not be worried about the country’s future in any case – and that the administration of the state would proceed without disruption.

Analysts compared the lack of warmth in Khamenei’s tone while talking about Raisi as opposed to a similar situation in 2020 when he was filmed crying over the death of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force Qasem Soleimani, who was killed on the order of then-US President Donald Trump.

Conflicting Wreckage Claims by Iran and Turkey

A few hours after news of the crash, IRGC-linked news agencies such as Tasnim claimed to have knowledge of the exact location of the wreckage.

However, this assertion contrasts sharply with statements from Red Crescent rescue teams, who stated they were still searching for the site based on their estimations – with no success at that stage.

Adding to the confusion, Hossein Hatami, an MP for Kaleybar in East Azerbaijan, refuted claims of any contact with individuals inside the helicopter. Hatami declared that there had been no communication with anyone aboard President Raisi’s helicopter, emphasizing the impracticality of such contact under the circumstances.

Rescue team members at the scene of the crash of a helicopter carrying Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi

The search finally concluded after more than 15 hours, and Iranian authorities announced the death of President Ebrahim Raisi. Despite international offers of assistance, Iran firmly denied any foreign involvement in locating the wreckage.

Initial Struggles and International Aid: Iranian rescue teams initially faced difficulties finding the crash site, prompting Turkey and Russia to offer assistance. Turkey deployed a night-vision drone to help Iran locate the site.

Conflicting Claims: Despite the Turkish drone’s efforts, officials in Iran, including Red Crescent head Pir-Hossein Kolivand and IRGC Commander Asghar Abbasgholi, asserted that the coordinates provided by the Turkish drone were incorrect. They claimed that Iranian forces ultimately discovered the crash site. This position was echoed by the state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB).

Anadolu News Agency’s Contradictory Broadcast: Adding to the complexity, the Turkish Anadolu news agency broadcast a live operation of the Turkish drone, indicating active Turkish involvement in the search efforts, which contradicts the Iranian state’s narrative.

Local Discoveries and Video Evidence: Complicating the story even further, a video allegedly showed the moment rescue teams found the wreckage. In the video, a voice is heard stating that motorcyclists found the site first. This suggests that local motorcyclists played a crucial role in locating the wreckage. In an interview that appeared on social media, these locals described the wreckage as “completely exploded and everything was burned.”

The conflicting accounts between Iranian officials and foreign sources raise questions about the true sequence of events in the search for President Raisi.

Confusion Over Condition of Recovered Bodies

In addition, there are conflicting reports about the condition of the bodies recovered from the crash. Mohammad Hassan Nami, the head of Iran’s Crisis Management Organization, stated that all individuals on board were burnt but could still be recognized.

In contrast, IRGC Commander Asghar Abbasgholi asserted that President Raisi’s body was not burnt. These contradictory statements intensified the confusion and uncertainty surrounding the incident, prompting further questions about the crash’s circumstances and the response efforts.

IRGC’s Media Tactics: Strategic Confusion or Incompetence?

Sina Ghanbarpour, a seasoned journalist with experience at Etemad Daily, has shed light on the reporting tactics of IRGC-affiliated media in Iran.

According to Ghanbarpour, these media outlets are often the first to report significant events because other news sources lack access to such information. This strategy aims to prepare society for potentially major news developments gradually.

Strategic Preparation: Ghanbarpour explains that by releasing conflicting or preliminary reports—termed ‘anti-news’—the IRGC-affiliated media are easing the public into major announcements, thus preventing societal shock.

Information Control: This approach highlights the control the IRGC exerts over the flow of information, ensuring that news is presented in a way that aligns with their objectives and mitigates public reaction.

Not everyone agrees with this interpretation. In a piece published in the Telegraph, UANI’s Kasra Aarabi and Mark Wallace argued that the chaotic nature of the reporting revealed the “utter incompetence” of the authorities.

They asserted that the government failed to control communications, did not adhere to well-rehearsed emergency protocols, and ultimately entered into full panic mode.

This perspective highlights a critical view of the government’s handling of the situation, suggesting that the conflicting reports result from mismanagement rather than a deliberate strategy.

Suspicious Protocol Breach in Helicopter Crash, Says Founding IRGC Member

Mohsen Sazegara, a former Iranian deputy prime minister and a founding member of IRGC, has since disclosed crucial information to Iran International.

According to Sazegara’s intelligence from his sources inside the IRGC, a series of events unfolded during the incident, further complicating matters.

Protocol Breached: Sazegara revealed that the standard protocol for such missions involves three helicopters: one called the leader in the front, another for high-ranking officials in the middle, and a third for support in the back. However, in a last-minute twist, the official’s helicopter was swapped with the leader’s, deviating from the established procedure.

Rescue team members carry a body following the crash of a helicopter carrying Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi

Pilot’s Distress: During the flight, the pilot of the primary helicopter carrying Raisi reported feeling nauseous.

A chopper witness: Those onboard the other helicopters witnessed a cloud of black smoke emanating from the main chopper before it ultimately crashed.

Given the Islamic Republic’s history of removing high-ranking officials during pivotal moments and their production of contradictory news, speculation naturally arises regarding the true cause of President Raisi’s helicopter crash. Many observers find it difficult to dismiss the possibility of foul play, considering the regime’s track record and the conflicting narratives disseminated.

Whether this uncertainty is intentional on the regime’s part or not remains to be seen.