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Chopper Crash, Which Killed Iranian President Raisi, Kicks Up Intriguing Questions

The American made civilian Bell 212 helicopter was several decades old; Company discontinued production in late 1990s; long list of Heads of State/Govt to perish in air crashes

The crash of the decades old twin-rotor blade twin-engine Bell 212 helicopter, in which the Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was killed along with the country’s foreign minister and six others, has thrown up some intriguing questions which have become the subject for a worldwide debate among experts.

The actual facts would emerge only after a time-consuming high-level commission of inquiry ordered by the Iranian authorities. But among the most glaring observations is how the authorities in the Islamic state could risk ferrying two of the highest ranking politicians in the country together in a decades old civilian aircraft, which stopped commercial production as early as in the late 1990s. As per protocols followed worldwide, heads of state and government travel by military aircraft.

Chopper Crash, Which Killed Iranian President Raisi, Kicks Up Intriguing Questions, Lifeinchd
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash

According to the Iranian state media, others travelling with the President, apart from Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, were Iran’s East Azerbaijan Province Governor Malek Rahmati, Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Ale-Hashem, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s representative to East Azerbaijan, a couple of security officials, besides the pilots.

Raisi’s helicopter in a convoy with two other choppers was flying back to the Iranian provincial capital of Tabriz, the largest city in the mountainous northwestern region of Iran, from the Iranian-Azerbaijanian border, where a cooperative dam project between the two countries was inaugurated jointly by Raisi and his Azerbaijanian counterpart Ilham Aliyev.

The convoy is reported to have hit foggy and rainy weather, which unexpectedly developed around the mountain range. While the other two helicopters landed safely in Tabriz, the Iranian President’s aircraft went missing, and after several hours of search and rescue operations, hampered by extreme bad weather, the wreckage of the helicopter and all eight bodies, including of the pilots, were located and recovered.

The several hours taken to locate the site of the crash has also raised questions over the Iranian government’s preparedness and lack of technology to undertake search and rescue missions in remote and rugged terrain and in extreme bad weather conditions.

Eventually, as per the Turkish Defence Ministry, the site of the crash was first located with the help of an Akinci UAV and a Cougar-type helicopter with night vision and heat-sensing capability sent by the Turkish government on receiving a request from the Iranian authorities.

According to a report by CNN, even before the Iranian authorities ordered a high level commission of inquiry into the crash, Iran’s former Foreign Minister Javad Zarif laid the blame at America’s door. The channel quoted the former minister as having told Iran’s state TV that, “One of the causes of this heart-breaking incident is the United States, which by sanctioning the sale of the aviation industry to Iran caused the martyrdom of the president and his companions.”

Chopper Crash, Which Killed Iranian President Raisi, Kicks Up Intriguing Questions, Lifeinchd
Representative picture of Bell 212 helicopter

The aging American-made Bell 212 is a twin rotor blade helicopter, the commercial production of which was stopped towards the late 1990s. While human error of judgment in the dense fog and rainy conditions appear to be the most likely cause of the crash, poor maintenance and lack of spares as reasons cannot be ruled out, according to experts.

American broadcaster ABC quoting its contributor Col. Steve Ganyard, a former fighter pilot and a former State Department official, said that it a “fairly classic mishap that occurs when helicopter pilots try to skirt underneath weather in very mountainous terrain.”

The ABC report further quoted him as saying, “And when you’re flying in the mountains and you have very low visibility, there’s a natural tendency for helicopter pilots to begin to sort of descend and try to get lower and try to get underneath either the fog or the cloud layer. And they know that they can set the aircraft down if they need to. But often times it leads to tragedy.”

Some of the previous Heads of Sate/Govt Who Perished In Air Crashes

1936: then-Swedish Prime Minister Arvid Lindman died in an air crash just after taking off in dense fog.

1940: Paraguayan President Marshal Jose Felix Estigarribia died in a plane crash.

1958: Interim President of Brazil, Nereu Ramos, died in a plane crash.

1959: Barthelemy Boganda, president of the Central African Republic, died after his plane crashed.

1966: Iraqi President Abdul Salam Arif died in a helicopter crash.

1969: Bolivian President Rene Barrientos died when his helicopter crashed.

1977: Yugoslavian Prime Minister Dzemal Bijedic and his wife died in a plane crash.

1979: Mauritanian Prime Minister Ahmed Ould Bouceif died in a plane crash.

1980: Portuguese Prime Minister Francisco Sa Carneiro and Defence Minister Adelino Amaro da Costa died when their plane crashed after takeoff.

1981: Ecuadorian President Jaime Roldos Aguilera and Defense Minister Maj. Gen. Marco Subia Martinez lost their lives in a plane crash.

1981: Panamanian President Omar Torrijos died when the small plane he was flying crashed.

1986: Mozambican President Samora Machel, some of his ministers and others died in a plane crash.

1987: Lebanese Prime Minister Rashid Karami was killed in a bomb blast in his helicopter.

1988: Pakistani President Zia-ul-Haq, his five generals and then US Ambassador to Pakistan were killed in a plane crash suspected to be due to sabotage.

1994: Burundi President Cyprien Ntaryamira and Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana were killed when their plane was shot down.

2010: Poland’s President Lech Kaczynski, his wife and several others were killed when a plane carrying them to a Russian city crashed into a forest area.

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