Rescue teams at work following a crash of a helicopter carrying Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi, in Varzaqan , East Azerbaijan Province, Iran, May 19, 2024. Image Credit: Reuters

TEHRAN: Uncertainty hung over the fate of Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi after state media said his helicopter had crashed on Sunday in poor weather in a western province.

Iran launched a large-scale search and rescue operation in the fog-shrouded mountain area of East Azerbaijan province.

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Supreme leader Ali Khamenei said “the Iranian people should not worry” about the country and voiced hope Raisi and the others aboard would be found in good health.

Here is what we know so far:

What happened?

On Sunday, Iranian state television reported that the helicopter carrying Raisi had an “accident” in the Jolfa region of East Azerbaijan province amid poor weather conditions.

The accident happened in the mountainous protected forest area of Dizmar near the town of Varzaghan, said the official IRNA news agency.

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Raisi had earlier inaugurated a dam project with his Azeri counterpart, Ilham Aliyev, on the border between the two countries.

Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi described the accident as a “hard landing due to the weather conditions”.

Raisi’s convoy comprised three helicopters including two that landed safely in the northwestern city of Tabriz.

Vahidi said it was “difficult to establish communication” with the third helicopter which was carrying Raisi.

Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was also on board along with the governor of East Azerbaijan and the province’s main imam, according to IRNA news agency.

How has Iran responded?

Rescue teams have since been scouring the area.

More than 40 rescue teams using search dogs and drones were sent to the site, said IRNA.

Military personnel along with the Revolutionary Guards and the police have also been sent there, said the army’s chief-of-staff Mohammad Bagheri.

An Iranian Red Crescent team was seen on state TV walking up a slope in thick fog and rain.

What would happen in the event of Raisi’s death?

Iran’s vice-president Mohmmad Mokhber would take over presidential duties in the event of Raisi’s death, according to Iran’s constitution.

Presidential elections should be arranged within 50 days, the constitution says.