Iranian president, 7 others, have died in a helicopter crash: Here's what we know — and what we don't

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, 63, died after his helicopter crashed in a remote area of the country on Sunday, the Iranian government confirmed Monday. In a country with a cleric-led government in which the supreme leader has the final say, Raisi wasn’t the highest-ranked official, but he was the highest elected official.

Raisi was a conservative hardliner elected in 2021 and was viewed as a protege of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Raisi’s government faced mass protests over the suffering economy and lack of women’s rights. Relations between Iran and the West have also worsened during his tenure, with the country accelerating its nuclear enrichment program to weapons-grade levels.

Raisi’s death comes at a time when turmoil is roiling the Middle East amid the Israel-Hamas war. The Iran-backed militant group Hamas ignited the current conflict in its deadly Oct. 7 attack on Israel. And just weeks ago, Iran launched a direct attack against Israel in a drone and missile attack in response to Israel’s deadly strike on a diplomatic compound in Damascus, Syria.

Rescue team members work at the scene of a helicopter crash.
Rescue team members work at the scene of a helicopter crash that killed Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. (Azin Haghighi/Moj News Agency via AP)
  • Others killed in the helicopter crash, according to state-run IRNA news agency, are:

    • Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian

    • The governor of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province

    • A senior cleric from Tabriz

    • A Revolutionary Guard official

    • Three crew members

  • Iran’s first Vice President Mohammad Mokhber is now acting president.

  • Ali Bagheri Kani, a top negotiator, has been appointed acting foreign minister.

  • An election must be arranged to select a new president within a maximum of 50 days.

  • The crash site appeared to be on the side of a mountain in a remote area in northwestern Iran.

  • Memorial ceremonies for Raisi and Amirabdollahian will be held on Tuesday in the city of Tabriz. Raisis will be buried in the northeastern city of Mashhad, where he was born.

  • Raisi’s helicopter was one of three traveling in his convoy. The two other helicopters traveling the same route made it back safely to the city of Tabriz.

  • Before the crash, the Iranian president traveled to Iran’s northwestern border with Azerbaijan to inaugurate a dam project with ​​Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, a sign of warming diplomatic relations.

  • Iran hasn’t officially announced the cause of the helicopter crash or why Raisi’s helicopter convoy was traveling through the mountainous region despite dense fog conditions.

  • Who will run to become Iran’s next elected president?

  • How will Raisi’s death affect Iran’s stability amid turmoil in the Middle East?

  • Will relations with any of Iran’s foes, like Israel, change with a newly elected president?

The United States does not have official diplomatic relations with Iran. They were severed in April 1980 following the Iranian takeover of the American Embassy in 1979, according to the U.S. State Department. The U.S. has yet to comment publicly on Raisi’s death.

Iran-backed militant groups, including Hamas, the Houthis and Hezbollah, have sent their condolences to Iran over the president’s death. (Iran’s backing includes military and economic support.)

World leaders from Russia, India, Pakistan, the European Union, China, Iraq, Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon and South Africa have all expressed their condolences to Iran for the loss of Raisi, the New York Times reports.