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by John Helmer, Moscow 

The release of fresh details of the fatal helicopter flight on May 19 which killed Iran’s President, Ebrahim Raisi, and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian is ruling out bad weather, machine failure, signals interference, on-board bomb or ground-fired missile as the cause of the crash. Iranian civilian, military and clerical officials are also excluding Israeli or US involvement.

Instead, Raisi’s chief of staff, Gholam-Hossein Esmaeili, a civilian lawyer and Raisi loyalist for many years,  has described a sequence of details, preceding and following the incident, which hint at suicide murder by one of the pilots of the presidential aircraft.

Esmaeili made his remarks on Tehran television on the evening of May 21.  He revealed that Raisi’s helicopter was flying second in a convoy of three aircraft, while Esmaeili was flying third, behind Raisi, when his helicopter “suddenly disappeared”.  The pilot of the third helicopter then “decided to circle and return to search for the President’s helicopter”.

Esmaeili also said that attempted calls to Raisi, Amir-Abdollahian, and the pilot of their aircraft,  Colonel Seyed Taher Mostafavi, all failed to produce a response. However, two calls were answered by Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Al-Hashem, the only passenger who appeared to survive the impact and fire of the crash,  but died soon after. Al-Hashem represents the clerical power in East Azerbaijan province. According to Esmaeili, Al-Hashem said “our situation is not good,  the copter has crashed into the valley”.

Al-Hashem’s remark appears to rule out a missile strike or bomb explosion.

Esmaeili’s statements rule out adverse weather conditions and the sight or sound of mid-air explosion.

An Iranian Army General Staff statement, issued last Friday May 24, after investigation of radar, radio, other telecommunications, and the aircraft debris, has confirmed normal navigation and  communications between the helicopter pilots and with ground controllers. “Gunshot wounds or similar ones have not been seen in the remaining parts of the helicopter,” the report claims, “in the conversations of the control tower with the flight crew, no suspicious cases have been observed.”   

The implication is also that there were no sudden machine failures triggering loss of pilot control and indicated by either pilot or automatic instrument distress signals.

Because the Raisi aircraft disappeared into clouds ahead of Esmaeili, and there was no heat burst from missile or bomb strike, satellite images by Russian, US, or Chinese satellites are unlikely to have recorded what happened. The signals intelligence collected by Russia and the US is also unlikely to have recorded more than Esmaeili has admitted.

That leaves the Russian hint published by Konstantin Malofeyev, owner and editor-in-chief of Tsargrad, citing a retired Russian Air Force general. According to Major General Vladimir Popov (retired), “the main threat to top officials during air travel comes from themselves”.    

The mainstream Russian press, the Moscow military bloggers, and RT, the state propaganda organ, have all avoided analysis of the incident forensics and speculation of motive; they have stuck to repeating official Iranian news releases. RT’s version  of Esmaeili’s statements is significantly shorter and less comprehending than the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) report  and the Times of India video.  

“Esmaeili’s statement points to Raisi’s pilot making the decision to crash,” comments a western military source. “Why order the other two aircraft to ascend and get above the clouds, and then not do so himself?”

The chief pilot of the presidential aircraft was Colonel Seyed Taher Mostafavi; his co-pilot was Colonel Mohsen Daryanush. Their chief mechanic was Behrouz Ghadimi.   

The presidential helicopter flight crew who died in the incident, left to right: technician Behrouz Ghadimi, pilot Seyed Taher Mostafavi, and co-pilot Mohsen Daryanush.  

The Russian military bloggers have remained under-informative and non-committal. The Militarist  and Boris Rozhin’s Colonel Cassad  have republished in Russian the Iranian General Staff’s report without comment on what is missing from the analysis and what remains to be investigated.  They, and Yevgeny Krutikov’s Mudraya Ptitsa, have all ignored Esmaeili’s television testimony. This lack of interest in the forensics of a high-profile incident in an allied country implies there is pressure from the Kremlin, Defense Ministry and GRU not to probe and not to speculate.

The General Staff report appears to signal that the Iranian Army will not be investigating foul play.

“Presidential Helicopter Accident Reported: No Bullet Wounds or Similar Reports

The first report of the General Staff of the Armed Forces was published on the President’s helicopter accident.

The statement of the Armed Forces Headquarters is as follows: Inform the dear and noble people of Islamic Iran that the High Council of the Armed Forces to investigate the dimensions and causes of the helicopter crash carrying the President, the martyr of Ayatollah Ebrahim Raisi and his companions martyred the Martyr of the Highness by organizing specialized and technical expert groups on Monday morning of 1403.2.31 5: 30 a.m. from Tehran and at 9 a.m. that same day they showed up at the site of the helicopter crash.

A significant amount of information has been collected in various specialized, technical and public areas that could have been involved in the accident.

Some actions for definitive comment require more time to be considered and some can be stated with certainty that they are being addressed:

  1. The helicopter has already continued on the predicted path and has not departed from the designated flight path.
  2. About a minute and a half before the helicopter crash, the pilot of the crashed helicopter communicated with two other helicopters of the flight group.
  3. Gunshot wounds or similar ones have not been seen in the remaining parts of the helicopter.
  4. The helicopter crashed after hitting the height, fire.
  5. Due to the complexity of the area, fogging and low temperatures, the search is conducted at night and continues throughout the night, and on Monday morning (5 am) with the help of unmanned birds (Iranian) exact point of the crash site and ground forces will be present at that point.
  6. In the conversations of the control tower with the flight crew, no suspicious cases have been observed.

At the end of the day, a significant part of the documents related to the helicopter crash have been collected and for some parts and documents, more time is needed, which after the evaluation and expert work and more detailed expertise will be heard in the next announcements and heard by the noble and revolutionary nation of Iran; therefore, [the Army] demands that  inexpert comments based on speculation without any accurate knowledge of the reality of the scene or sometimes under direction of foreign media in cyberspace should not be published.”  

The warning at the end of the General Staff report has been ignored by the oppositionist Iranian media organization, Iran International TV, which is hinting that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) plotted to kill the president. Iran International is an anti-clerical, anti-regime publication based in London and Washington,  and reportedly financed by Saudi Arabia.

Source: https://www.iranintl.com/en/202405277901

In its report, Iran International claims “that the President’s bodyguard was notably absent from the ill-fated helicopter…The latest images of Ebrahim Raisi show his bodyguard was almost always at his side. However, the released list of casualties revealed that he was not onboard. Given that the Bell 212 helicopter can accommodate 15 passengers but only had 8 on board, the question arises: why did Ebrahim Raisi’s personal bodyguard continue the journey in a different helicopter? Javad Mehrabi, the bodyguard of Iran’s President, continued the journey in one of the other two helicopters accompanying the president.”  

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