Iran’s President Raisi and FM Amir-Abdollahian join a long list of world leaders who have perished in air disasters

Ebrahim Raisi, right, and Hossein Amir-Abdollahian died in a helicopter crash in northern Iran. (AFP)
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Updated 21 May 2024

Iran’s President Raisi and FM Amir-Abdollahian join a long list of world leaders who have perished in air disasters

  • The duo perished on Sunday when the helicopter carrying them crashed in a mountainous region of northern Iran
  • At least two dozen top officials and serving heads of state have died in plane and helicopter crashes over the past century

LONDON: Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was confirmed dead on Monday after search-and-rescue teams found his crashed helicopter in a mountainous region of northern Iran, close to the border with Azerbaijan.

Killed alongside Raisi were Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and seven others, including the crew, bodyguards and political and religious officials.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has assigned Vice President Mohammad Mokhber to assume interim duties ahead of elections within 50 days. Ali Bagheri, the country’s one-time top nuclear negotiator, was appointed as acting foreign minister.

Iranian authorities first raised the alarm on Sunday afternoon when they lost contact with Raisi’s helicopter as it flew through a fog-shrouded mountain area of the Jolfa region of East Azerbaijan province.

Iranian authorities first raised the alarm on Sunday afternoon when they lost contact with Raisi’s helicopter. (AP/Moj News Agency)

Raisi had earlier met Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev on their common border to inaugurate a dam project.

On the return trip, only two of the three helicopters in his convoy landed in the city of Tabriz, setting off a massive search-and-rescue effort, with several foreign governments soon offering help.

As the sun rose on Monday, rescue crews said they had located the destroyed Bell 212 helicopter — a civilian version of the ubiquitous Vietnam War-era UH-1N “Twin Huey” — with no survivors among the nine people on board.

State television channel IRIB reported that the helicopter had “hit a mountain and disintegrated” on impact.

Analysts have highlighted concerns about the safety of Iran’s civilian and military aircraft, many of which are in a poor state of repair after decades of US sanctions deprived the nation of new models and spare parts.

Iran has kept its civil and military aviation fleets flying during its isolation since the 1979 revolution through a combination of smuggled parts and reverse-engineering, according to Western analysts.

“Spare parts would have definitely been an issue for the Iranians,” Cedric Leighton, a retired US Air Force colonel, told CNN.

State television channel IRIB reported that the helicopter had “hit a mountain and disintegrated” on impact. (Reuters/West Asia News Agency)

“In this particular case, I think this confluence of spare parts, because of the sanctions, plus the weather, which was very bad over the last few days in this particular part of northwestern Iran.

“All of that, I think contributed to a series of incidents and a series of decisions that the pilot and possibly even the president himself made when it came to flying this aircraft … And unfortunately for them, the result is this crash.”

Sunday’s incident is only the latest in a long history of air disasters that have claimed the lives of world leaders since the dawn of aviation.

One of the first instances of a serving leader or head of state to die in an air accident was Arvid Lindman, the prime minister of Sweden, whose Douglas DC-2 crashed into houses in Croydon, south London, while attempting to take off in thick fog on Dec. 9, 1936.

As the age of aviation took off during the interwar period, more and more leaders began taking to the skies for diplomatic visits and to touch base with the more distant corners of their dominions.

On Sept. 7, 1940, Paraguayan President Jose Felix Estigarribia died in a plane crash just a year after taking office, followed in 1943 by Poland’s prime minister in exile, Wladyslaw Sikorski, who died on July 4, 1943, when his B24C Liberator crashed into the Mediterranean shortly after taking off from Gibraltar.

While aviation technology and safety rapidly advanced after the Second World War as more and more countries began establishing their own air forces and civilian commercial fleets, technical faults, bad weather, and foul play continued to claim lives.

The top officials were found dead at the site of a helicopter crash on Monday after an hourslong search through a foggy, mountainous region. (AP/Moj News Agency)

On March 17, 1957, Ramon Magsaysay, the president of the Philippines, was killed when his plane crashed into Mount Manunggal in Cebu. A year later, on June 16, Brazil’s interim president, Nereu Ramos, died in a Cruzeiro airline crash near Curitiba Afonso Pena International Airport.

Africa has also seen its share of air disasters. On March 29, 1959, Barthelemy Boganda, president of the Central African Republic, died when his Atlas flying boxcar exploded in midair over Bangui.

Then, in 1961, Swedish economist and diplomat Dag Hammarskjold, who served as the second secretary-general of the UN, died when his Douglas DC-6B crashed into a jungle in Zambia on Sept. 18.

With the 1960s came the widespread adoption of helicopter flight in conflict zones, search-and-rescue operations, and increasingly as an efficient way for politicians, diplomats and business leaders to get around and land in areas without an airstrip.

Sunday’s incident is only the latest in a long history of air disasters that have claimed the lives of world leaders since the dawn of aviation. (AFP)

Like fixed-wing aircraft, however, helicopters are not immune to bad weather conditions, obstacles, human error, sabotage or terrorism.

One of the first world leaders to die in a helicopter crash was Abdul Salam Arif, the president of Iraq, who reportedly died when his aircraft was caught in a thunderstorm on April 13, 1966.

Similar incidents followed with the April 27, 1969, death of Bolivian President Rene Barrientos in a helicopter crash in Arque, and Joel Rakotomalala, the prime minister of Madagascar, in a crash on July 30, 1976.

Bad weather contributed to the death of Yugoslav premier Dzemal Bijedic on Jan. 18, 1977, when his Gates Learjet crashed into a mountain during a snowstorm.

Climatic conditions were also blamed when Ecuadorian President Jaime Roldos Aguilera’s Beech Super King Air 200 FAE-723 crashed on May 24, 1981, and when Mozambican President Samora Machel’s Tupolev-134A crashed while trying to land in a storm at Maputo on Oct. 19, 1986.

Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. (AFP)

As the skies became busier, the potential for accidents grew. On July 18, 1967, Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco, the first president of the Brazilian military dictatorship after the 1964 coup, died in a midair collision of Piper PA-23 aircraft near Fortaleza.

On May 27, 1979, Ahmed Ould Bouceif, the prime minister of Mauritania, died in a plane crash off the coast of Dakar, Senegal, and Francisco Sa Carneiro, who served as Portugal’s prime minister for only 11 months, died on Dec. 4, 1980.

Not all crashes can be blamed on the weather or pilot error, however. In several cases, aircraft have been deliberately targeted as a means of killing their high-profile passengers.

Panamanian leader Gen. Omar Torrijos died on July 31, 1981, when his Panamanian Air Force plane crashed under suspicious circumstances.

On June 1, 1987, Lebanese statesman Rashid Karami, who served as prime minister eight times, was killed when a bomb detonated aboard his helicopter shortly after takeoff from Beirut.

In one particularly devastating incident, Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira were both killed on April 6, 1994, when their Dassault Falcon 50 9XR-NN was shot down while approaching Rwanda’s Kigali airport.

Iranians will observe five days of mourning for victims of the helicopter crash. (Reuters/West Asia News Agency)

There have been several investigations into the air crash that killed Pakistan’s Gen. Zia Ul-Haq on Aug. 17, 1988, but no satisfactory cause was found, leading to a flurry of assassination theories.

The Pakistani Air Force Lockheed C-130B crashed shortly after takeoff from Bahawalpur. According to investigators, the plane plunged from the sky and struck the ground with such force that it was blown to pieces and wreckage scattered over a wide area.

Despite vast improvements in aviation safety, disasters have continued to strike well into the new millennium.

On Feb. 26, 2004, Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski died when his Beechcraft Super King Air 200 Z3-BAB crashed while trying to land in poor weather at Mostar.

A man lights a candle to offer condolences outside the Iranian embassy, in Baghdad. (Reuters)

John Garang, leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and briefly first vice president of Sudan, died when his helicopter crashed into a mountain range in the country’s south after getting caught in poor weather on July 30, 2005.

Muhammadu Maccido, the sultan of Sokoto in Nigeria, was killed alongside his son when his ADC Airlines Flight 53 crashed on Oct. 29, 2006, and Polish President Lech Kaczynski died on April 10, 2010, when his Tupolev-154 crashed in foggy weather when approaching Smolensk airport in western Russia.

In the latest incident prior to Raisi’s death, the deceased was actually at the controls when the aircraft got into difficulty. Chile’s former president, Sebastian Pinera, was killed on Feb. 6 this year when the Robinson R44 helicopter he was piloting crashed nose-first into Lake Ranco.

An Iranian woman holds a poster of President Ebrahim Raisi during a mourning ceremony in Tehran, Iran. (AP)

While this list of fatalities might give world leaders pause for thought as they step aboard their presidential jets on their next diplomatic outing, it is well worth remembering that modern air travel is statistically many times safer than traveling by road.

That said, an experienced pilot, an aircraft in good condition, a clear weather forecast, and a flight plan shrouded in secrecy would no doubt improve their odds of making a safe arrival.


8,000 under-5s treated for malnutrition in Gaza

Updated 5 sec ago

8,000 under-5s treated for malnutrition in Gaza

  • WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said 28 of those children had died

GENEVA: More than 8,000 children aged under five have been treated in the Gaza Strip for acute malnutrition since war broke out, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said 28 of those children had died and a significant proportion of Gaza’s population was now facing catastrophic hunger and famine-like conditions.

“Despite reports of increased delivery of food, there is currently no evidence that those who need it most are receiving sufficient quantity and quality of food,” he told a press conference.

Tedros said the UN health agency and its partners had attempted to scale up nutrition services in the besieged Palestinian territory.

“Over 8,000 children under five years old have been diagnosed and treated for acute malnutrition,” he said. Among them, he said 1,600 were suffering from severe acute malnutrition, also known as severe wasting — the most deadly form of malnutrition.

However, due to insecurity and lack of access, only two stabilization centers for severely malnourished patients can currently operate, Tedros added.

“There have already been 32 deaths attributed to malnutrition, including 28 among children under five years old.”

Tedros said there was also an escalating health crisis in the West Bank, with attacks on healthcare, and movement restrictions, obstructing access to health services. “In the West Bank, as in Gaza, the only solution is peace. The best medicine is peace.”

Palestinian detainees say they faced abuse in Israeli jails

Updated 4 min 50 sec ago

Palestinian detainees say they faced abuse in Israeli jails

GAZA: Palestinians held in Israeli detention since the start of the war in Gaza said they faced systematic ill-treatment by prison authorities whom they accused of deliberately withholding vital medical treatment.

Human rights groups and international organizations have alleged widespread abuse of inmates detained by Israel in raids in the occupied West Bank or during its military advance through in Gaza.

They described abusive and humiliating treatment including holding blindfolded and handcuffed detainees in cramped cages as well as beatings, intimidation and harassment.

“We have left but we call on you to get the rest out,” said former detainee Ataa Shbat, at the Kamal Adwan Hospital in Gaza, where he was taken following his release. He said many detainees believed their families assumed they were dead.

“People are dying. Torture which you cannot imagine unless you taste it (experience it). Suffering which you cannot imagine unless you experience it,” he said.

The Israeli military has said it is investigating allegations of mistreatment of detainees at facilities in Israel but has declined to comment on specific cases. A spokesperson said on Wednesday that details of the investigation would be shared when they were ready.

At least 18 Palestinians have died in Israeli custody since the start of the war, the Palestinian Prisoners Association said on Wednesday, six of whom were from Gaza, including orthopedics surgeon Adnan Al-Bursh.

More than 9,170 Palestinians from the West Bank have been arrested by Israel since Oct. 7, it said, with thousands more “forcibly disappeared” from Gaza. It said their exact number was unknown as Israel has refused to disclose how many Palestinians from Gaza it was holding.

Last week, Israeli state attorneys said authorities had begun transferring prisoners from Sde Teiman, a former military base in the Negev desert, after groups including Association for Civil Rights in Israel demanded the closure of the site.

Widespread reports of mistreatment of detainees in Israeli prisons have added to international pressure on Israel for its conduct of the Gaza war, now in its ninth month. Last month, the US State Department said it was looking into allegations of Israeli abuse of Palestinian detainees.

The main UN relief agency for Palestinians, UNRWA, said in a report from April that prisoners reported ill-treatment throughout their detention. It said this included beatings, being deprived of food, denied access to water or toilets and having their hands and feet bound with plastic ties.

Houthis blamed for attack on cargo ship in Red Sea

Updated 12 June 2024

Houthis blamed for attack on cargo ship in Red Sea

  • Vessel hit by small boat, ‘airborne projectile,’ maritime agencies say
  • Strike comes after US says it destroyed two anti-ship missile launchers in Houthi-controlled area

AL-MUKALLA: A commercial ship transiting the Red Sea was damaged on Wednesday in an attack by another vessel and a projectile thought to have been launched by the Houthi militia group, two UK maritime agencies said.

The UK Maritime Trade Operations said in an initial report that it received a message from the master of the cargo ship that it had sustained damage to its stern after being attacked by a small vessel about 66 nautical miles southwest of the port city of Hodeidah.

The smaller craft was “white in color and 5-7 meters in length. Authorities are investigating. Vessels are advised to transit with caution and report any suspicious activity,” it said.

In updates, the UKMTO said the ship was also struck by an “unknown airborne projectile,” was taking on water and not under the control of the crew.

A second maritime security service, Ambrey, identified the cargo ship as the Greek-owned Tutor and said it had suffered damage to its engine room.

While the Houthis did not immediately claim responsibility for the attack, Ambrey said the boat seemed to have been launched by the militia group from Yemen.

Over the past eight months, the Houthis have launched hundreds of ballistic missiles, drones and remote-controlled, explosive-laden boats at commercial and naval ships in international waters off Yemen and in the Indian Ocean, claiming their actions were intended to force Israel to end its war in Gaza.

But critics have said the group is taking advantage of the widespread condemnation of the killing of civilians in Gaza to shore up popular support while simultaneously recruiting and mobilizing fighters to attack the Yemeni government.

Wednesday’s attack came after the US Central Command said its forces had destroyed two anti-ship cruise missile launchers in a Houthi-controlled area of Yemen in the previous 24 hours.

US and UK forces conducted three airstrikes on Tuesday in Al-Salif district of Hodeidah province, according to Houthi media.

Meanwhile, the Houthis are coming under mounting pressure from around the world to free the scores of Yemeni employees of the UN and other foreign organizations who were abducted from their homes in Sanaa.

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday that a WHO employee was among those being held.

“We are working closely with our UN counterparts to ensure their safety. We urge an immediate and unconditional release. Humanitarian workers must never be a target,” he said.

Yemen’s Minister of Human Rights Ahmed Arman told Arab News this week that Dr. Abdul Nasser Al-Rabai, an immunization officer for the WHO’s Yemen office, was abducted in a raid on his home.

Meanwhile, the son of Judge Abdul Wahab Qatran said on Facebook on Wednesday that his father had been released after being held by the Houthis for five months.

Mohammed Abdul Wahab Qatran posted a photograph of himself with his father and siblings but said the Houthis were still holding his father’s phones and other items taken during a raid on his home.

“My free and heroic father was freed this afternoon but he is unable to access all of his accounts since his phones and accounts are still with the intelligence services,” he said.

Qatran Sr. was abducted in January and charged with denigrating a Houthi leader and publishing false news.

The judge was known for criticizing the Houthis for human rights violations and failing to pay public workers. Shortly before his abduction he voiced sympathy for a journalist who was attacked and beaten by the militia in Sanaa.

Court acquits Turkish police of killing human rights lawyer

Updated 12 June 2024

Court acquits Turkish police of killing human rights lawyer

  • Tahir Elci, a prominent campaigner for Kurdish rights, was shot dead on a city street on November 28, 2015, during a gunfight between outlawed Kurdish militants and police
  • The court ordered that three police officers be acquitted because of lack of evidence after a lengthy trial

DIYARBAKIR, Turkiye: A Turkish court on Wednesday acquitted three police officers nine years after the killing of a prominent rights lawyer in the Kurdish majority city of Diyarbakir.
Tahir Elci, a prominent campaigner for Kurdish rights, was shot dead on a city street on November 28, 2015, during a gunfight between outlawed Kurdish militants and police.
Elci, who was head of the Diyarbakir bar association, was cut down as he appealed for calm in the aftermath of the killing of two police officers by the PKK in a nearby street.
The court ordered that three police officers, who appeared before the court by video link, be acquitted because of lack of evidence after a lengthy trial. They stood accused of “causing death by foreseeable negligence” and faced up to six years in prison.
Amnesty International blasted the verdict as a “huge blow” to Elci’s family and the wider human rights community in Türkiye.
“The failure of the authorities to hold those responsible for his killing to account is a thorn in the heart of his loved ones and a stain on the justice system in Turkiye,” Amnesty’s deputy regional director for Europe Dinushika Dissanayake said in a statement.
Lawyers for Elci’s family had denounced multiple failures in the investigation as well as the destruction of evidence and successive changes of prosecutor in charge of the case.
The long-awaited trial opened in 2020, five years after the killing, after rights advocates including Human Rights Watch had criticized “extreme delays” in the case.
Elci’s death came after the collapse of a ceasefire between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is blacklisted as a terrorist group by Ankara and its Western allies.
In 2019, investigators from the London-based research agency Forensic Architecture published an in-depth report into the shooting, suggesting that security forces could have killed him.

Al-Azhar welcomes Security Council’s endorsement of Gaza truce call

Updated 12 June 2024

Al-Azhar welcomes Security Council’s endorsement of Gaza truce call

  • Grand imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, hailed the resolution endorsed by the Security Council, which calls for a ceasefire in Gaza
  • Al-Tayeb received a group of senior secondary students from the Gaza Al-Azhar Institute, Gaza Institute, Khan Yunis Institute, and North Gaza Institute

CAIRO: Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, Sunni Islam’s highest seat of learning, has welcomed the UN Security Council’s endorsement of the resolution to stop the aggression against the Gaza Strip.

The grand imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, hailed the resolution endorsed by the Security Council, which calls for a ceasefire in Gaza, the full withdrawal of Israeli forces, the bilateral release of prisoners and hostages, the return of displaced Palestinians to their homes, the immediate entry of aid into the Gaza Strip, and moving toward the reconstruction of Gaza. ‎

A statement from Al-Azhar said the seminary hopes that the Security Council will be able to ensure all the guarantees required for the implementation of the resolution and for all parties to adhere to it and save the lives of innocent people.

It stressed that the resolution, issued after the loss of more than 37,000 lives, “is a step in the right direction and represents a final opportunity to restore peace and trust in the international community and international institutions, promote global peace and security, and grant the Palestinian people their right to establish their independent state.” ‎

Meanwhile, Al-Tayeb received a group of senior secondary students from the Gaza Al-Azhar Institute, Gaza Institute, Khan Yunis Institute, and North Gaza Institute. The male and female students joined Al-Azhar institutes in Cairo to pursue their studies after Israel launched its offensives against Gaza.

Al-Tayeb welcomed the Gazan students to Egypt and Al-Azhar, saying: “Our hearts have been broken over the past six months since the onset of the aggression, and we have felt for you during this human tragedy that has afflicted you day after day. However, our meeting with you today has induced hope in us anew. You have taught the world the meaning of steadfastness, perseverance, hope, and trust in God.

“I see this in your steadfastness and your determination to pursue your education. We at Al-Azhar Al-Sharif are happy to have you with us, and we will work to provide all the amenities that ensure your excellence. My door and the door of Al-Azhar are open to you at any hour of the day or night.” ‎

He listened attentively to the students who recounted their ordeals during Israel’s invasion and expressed fears about the difficult days ahead.

The students offered Al-Azhar’s imam a Palestinian keffiyeh in appreciation for his role in supporting them and advocating for the Palestinian cause.