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

  • Duo perished on Sunday when helicopter carrying them crashed in mountainous region of northern Iran
  • At least two dozen top officials, serving heads of state have died in plane, helicopter crashes over 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.

 


UN experts say firms sending arms to Israel could be complicit in abuses

Updated 4 sec ago
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UN experts say firms sending arms to Israel could be complicit in abuses

The group of 30 experts, including several UN Special Rapporteurs, said arms manufacturers supplying Israel should halt their transfers of war materiel
The UN experts said on Thursday the risk to arms firms had increased since the International Court of Justice ordered Israel last month to halt its military offensive in Rafah

GENEVA: A group of United Nations experts on Thursday warned arms and ammunitions manufacturers against taking part in the transfer of weapons to Israel, saying it could make them complicit in human rights abuses and violations of international law.
The group of 30 experts, including several UN Special Rapporteurs, said arms manufacturers supplying Israel should halt their transfers of war materiel, “even if they are executed under existing export licenses.”
“These companies, by sending weapons, parts, components, and ammunition to Israeli forces, risk being complicit in serious violations of international human rights and international humanitarian laws,” the experts said in a statement.
There was no immediate comment from Israel which has repeatedly denied carrying out abuses during its Gaza operations, saying it is acting to defend itself and is fighting Hamas militants, not the Palestinian population.
The UN experts said on Thursday the risk to arms firms had increased since the International Court of Justice ordered Israel last month to halt its military offensive in Rafah in the southern tip of the Gaza Strip, in a landmark emergency ruling in South Africa’s case accusing Israel of genocide.
“In this context, continuing arms transfers to Israel may be seen as knowingly providing assistance for operations that contravene international human rights and international humanitarian laws and may result in profit from such assistance,” the experts said.
Israel has rejected the genocide accusations as false and grossly distorted.
The UN human rights office said on Wednesday that Israeli forces may have repeatedly violated the laws of war and failed to distinguish between civilians and fighters in the Gaza conflict. Israel dismissed the findings as flawed.
Israel’s air and ground offensive has killed more than 37,400 people in the Hamas-ruled Palestinian territory, according to health authorities there.
Israel launched its assault after Hamas fighters stormed across the border into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and taking more than 250 people hostage, according to Israeli tallies.

Hezbollah fires rockets at Israel after fighter killed

Updated 57 min ago
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Hezbollah fires rockets at Israel after fighter killed

  • Hezbollah announced that one of its fighters had been killed
  • A source close to the group told AFP he was killed in the Deir Kifa strike

BEIRUT: Hezbollah said it fired “dozens” of rockets into northern Israel Thursday in retaliation for a deadly strike in south Lebanon, a day after a fiery speech from the group’s leader.
Israel and Hezbollah, a powerful Lebanese movement allied with Hamas, have traded near-daily cross-border fire since the Palestinian militant group’s October 7 attack on Israel which triggered war in the Gaza Strip.
Fears of a regional war rose after Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah warned Wednesday “no place” in Israel would be spared in case of all-out war against his group, and threatened the nearby island nation of Cyprus if it opened its airports to Israel.
Hezbollah on Thursday said that “in response to the assassination that the Israeli enemy carried out in the village of Deir Kifa,” fighters targeted an Israeli barracks “with dozens of Katyusha rockets.”
Lebanon’s official National News Agency (NNA) had reported one dead after an “enemy drone” struck a vehicle in south Lebanon’s Deir Kifa area.
Hezbollah announced that one of its fighters had been killed. A source close to the group, requesting anonymity, told AFP he was killed in the Deir Kifa strike.
The Israeli military said an air strike “eliminated” a Hezbollah operative in the Deir Kifa area, saying he was “responsible for planning and carrying out terror attacks against Israel and commanding Hezbollah ground forces” in south Lebanon’s Jouaiyya area.
Elsewhere, Israeli fighter jets struck “a Hezbollah surface-to-air missile launcher that posed a threat to aircraft operating over Lebanon,” the army statement added.
The exchanges between the foes, which last went to war in 2006, have escalated in recent weeks, and the Israeli military said Tuesday that “operational plans for an offensive in Lebanon were approved and validated.”
After the Hezbollah leader’s threats against Cyprus, Lebanon’s foreign ministry said Thursday that “relations between Lebanon and Cyprus are based on a rich history of diplomatic cooperation.”
Contacts and consultations continue between the two countries “at the highest levels,” a foreign ministry statement said, without making specific reference to Nasrallah’s remarks.
In a conversation with his Cyprus counterpart, Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib expressed “Lebanon’s constant reliance on the positive role that Cyprus plays in supporting regional stability,” the NNA reported.
Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides had denied his country’s involvement in the war and said it was “part of the solution.”
The cross-border violence has killed at least 479 people in Lebanon, most of them fighters but also including 93 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
Israeli authorities say at least 15 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed in the country’s north.


UNHCR chief warns of ‘insufficent’ humanitarian access to Sudan

Updated 20 June 2024
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UNHCR chief warns of ‘insufficent’ humanitarian access to Sudan

  • Grandi said that although he had “seen a little bit of progress in the last few weeks,” much more action was needed to improve access
  • The global community had to continue lobbying for aid access, he said

JUBA: Humanitarian access to war-torn Sudan remains woefully “insufficient,” raising the risk of starvation among its population, Filippo Grandi, the head of the UN refugee agency, warned.
War has raged since April 2023 between the regular military under army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces led by his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.
The conflict has left tens of thousands dead and displaced more than ten million people, according to the United Nations.
In an interview with AFP on Wednesday, Grandi, who leads the United Nations’ refugee agency UNHCR, said that although he had “seen a little bit of progress in the last few weeks,” much more action was needed to improve access.
“We are asking all the parties to give access to humanitarians because our presence there is insufficient to help the people in need, and especially to bring the food and the other supplies that are needed for people that otherwise risk starvation,” he said.
Aid workers were able to get “a bit more” access than before, due to “insistence... on the part of the international community,” said Grandi, during a visit to South Sudan, which has seen a huge influx of returnees from Sudan since April last year.
The global community had to continue lobbying for aid access, he said, “because otherwise we risk having more displacement, and even worse, we risk seeing people dying of hunger.”
“I am very worried because I was hoping at the beginning like many Sudanese did, that this would be a short-lived conflict.”
Both sides have been accused of war crimes including deliberately targeting civilians, indiscriminate shelling of residential areas and blocking humanitarian aid, despite warnings that millions are on the brink of starvation.
Rights groups and the United States have also accused the paramilitaries of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
Christos Christou, the international chief of the medical charity Doctors Without Borders, on Thursday described Sudan as “one of the worst crises the world has seen for decades... yet the humanitarian response is profoundly inadequate.”
“There are extreme levels of suffering across the country, and the needs are growing by the day,” he said on X.


Kuwait announces power cuts as demand spikes in summer heat

Updated 20 June 2024
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Kuwait announces power cuts as demand spikes in summer heat

  • Temperatures are expected to climb above the 50 degree Celsius mark in the coming days.
  • Kuwait signed short-term contracts to buy 500 megawatts of electricity, including 300 MW from Oman and 200 MW from Qatar

Kuwait City: Kuwait has announced temporary power cuts in some parts of the country during peak consumption hours, saying it is struggling to meet increased demand spurred by extreme summer heat.
In a statement on Wednesday, Kuwait’s Ministry of Electricity, Water and Renewable Energy said the scheduled cuts would occur for up to two hours a day, in the first such step for the OPEC member state as climate change causes temperatures to rise.
It blamed the cuts on “the inability of power plants to meet increased demand” during peak hours amid “a rise in temperatures compared to the same period in previous years.”
On Thursday, the ministry published a schedule of expected cuts across several parts of the country, after urging residents to ration consumption to ease the load on power plants.
Kuwait, one of the largest crude producers in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), is considered one of the world’s hottest desert countries.
In recent years, climate change has made summer peaks hotter and longer.
The extreme heat raises reliance on energy-guzzling air conditioners which are ubiquitous in Kuwait during the summer months.
Temperatures neared 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) on Thursday, according to Kuwait’s Meteorological Department.
“What we are experiencing today is the result of climate change,” said Kuwaiti astronomer and scientist Adel Al-Saadoun, noting that temperatures are expected to climb above the 50 degree Celsius mark in the coming days.
Last month, Kuwait signed short-term contracts to buy 500 megawatts of electricity, including 300 MW from Oman and 200 MW from Qatar, during the summer months. The contracts would last from June 1 to August 31.
Kamel Harami, a Kuwaiti energy expert, said that the Gulf state needed to revamp its energy infrastructure.
“The available energy is not sufficient, and instead of relying on oil and gas, we must go toward nuclear, solar and wind energy,” he told AFP.
“This is only the beginning of the crisis, and the programmed cuts of electricity will continue in the coming years if we do not accelerate the construction of power stations.”
Umm Mohammed, a Kuwaiti woman in her sixties, said she was left without power for two hours on Wednesday.
“We weren’t severely affected,” she told AFP, noting that the house remained cool during the brief outage.
“Some turn their homes into refrigerators, even when they are not inside, and this raises the load” on power plants, she said.


Iraqis flock to river or ice rink to escape searing heat

Updated 20 June 2024
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Iraqis flock to river or ice rink to escape searing heat

  • Iraq is grappling with a blistering summer, with temperatures often exceeding 50 degrees Celsius
  • The United Nations ranks Iraq among the world’s five most climate-vulnerable nations

Baghdad: In the sizzling Baghdad heat, Mussa Abdallah takes to the Tigris river during the day to cool off, while others opt for ice skating to escape the relentless temperatures.
“At the end of the day, I’m sweaty and exhausted because of the sun,” said Abdallah, a 21-year-old house painter in the Iraqi capital.
“At home, there’s no electricity. If I want to wash, the water is scalding hot,” he added, describing how water stored above ground virtually boils at this time of year.
Iraq is grappling with a blistering summer, with temperatures often exceeding 50 degrees Celsius, exacerbated by declining rainfall, rampant desertification and frequent dust storms.
The United Nations ranks Iraq among the world’s five most climate-vulnerable nations.
Almost every day after work, Abdallah retreats to the Tigris to escape the sweltering heat.
“We’re young and want to have a good time — where else can we go?” the decorator said on the banks of the river, traces of white paint still visible on his temples and long-sleeved T-shirt.
While Abdallah puts his sandals back on, nearby others are taking the plunge and two bathers are washing their hair with soap.
As night brings little relief from the sweltering gusts, residents of Baghdad flock to the city’s lone indoor ice rink to find respite.
The rink is in one of the air-conditioned shopping malls that have sprung up in the capital in recent years, attracting up to 100 visitors on busy days, 25-year-old instructor Sajjad Mohamed said.
“Twenty-four hours a day, the electricity never goes out. There’s a cooling system” for the ice, Mohamed said.
Abbas, 26, discovered ice skating in Turkiye. Now back in Iraq, he is pursuing it enthusiastically.
“When we finish work in the afternoon, it’s either go home, or go to shopping malls and other places where it’s cold,” he said.
The soaring seasonal temperatures have become a troubling fact of life for the overwhelming majority of Iraq’s 43 million inhabitants.
Although it is rich in oil, Iraq has seen its infrastructure suffer after decades of conflict and failed public policy that has resulted in long power cuts on the public grid with generators unable to handle the strain.
On the banks of the Tigris, Rashid Al-Rashed takes off his T-shirt to dive into the Tigris.
“At home it’s hot, I can’t stay there for long. The public electricity is inadequate,” the 17-year-old garbage collector said.
To escape the heat, “I bathe every day, for 10 minutes or a quarter of an hour,” he added.
Elsewhere on the river, a police boat moves along a dozen bathers from the water for their safety.
“When we make them leave, they come back,” said a policeman, seeking to explain everything was being done to prevent deaths from drownings.
But the danger is evident. On his phone, he displays the body of an 11-year-old boy found nearly 48 hours after drowning.
While the river — despite its danger — is free, those with more means can pay $10 for an afternoon with family or friends at Baghdad Aqua Park.
“This year summer came earlier, so we have more visitors,” one of the water park’s administrators Ali Yussef said. “People are coming after work or school,” he added.
Maitham Mahdi, 31, was on his second visit of the month. “I think I’ll be coming a lot during the summer,” the civil servant, still dressed in his swimsuit, said as he departed the indoor pool.
Mahdi also complained about the electricity at home. “We come here to get a bit of fresh air,” he explained.
Iraq has just gone through four years of drought, marked by water shortages and a drastic drop in river flow.
But on the back of a wet winter, officials are hoping the more generous rainfall will have a knock-on effect over the summer.
Despite those hopes, however, the thermometer continues to climb.
The meteorological service is forecasting 50 degrees Celsius this week in the capital and southern cities such as Basra and Nasiriyah.
Its director, Amer Al-Jaberi, said with its semi-desert climate, Iraq is expecting “heat waves,” particularly in the south, adding these intensifying phenomena are also the result of climate change.