BREAKING: A helicopter carrying Iranian President Raisi suffered a premature “hard landing” in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province

A helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has suffered a “hard landing”, state television reported, as officials said search operations were under way but were being impeded by poor weather conditions.

Iranian state media said the incident occurred on Sunday near Jolfa in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province.

The semi-official Fars news agency urged Iranians to pray for Raisi and state TV carried prayers for his safety.

Raisi was returning from a visit to neighbouring Azerbaijan, where he had travelled to inaugurate a dam alongside the country’s President Ilham Aliyev.

State-linked media said three helicopters were in the Iranian president’s convoy, and the two others made it back safely.

Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, East Azerbaijan Governor Malek Rahmati, and Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Ale-Hashem, the representative of the Iranian supreme leader to the province, were in the same helicopter as Raisi, state media reported.

Energy Minister Ali Akbar Mehrabian and Housing and Transportation Minister Mehrdad Bazrpash were in the other helicopters that made it back safely.

People who were with the president inside the helicopter managed to make an emergency call, according to the semiofficial Tasnim News Agency.

Tasnim reported that the call increased hopes that the incident can be concluded “without fatalities”. It remains unclear exactly what caused the “hard landing”, or whether any of the passengers in the helicopter have been hurt.

Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi told state television that various rescue teams were trying to reach the location of the incident, but it might take some time due to fog and bad weather conditions.

Vahidi confirmed that radio contact was made with the helicopter, but offered no further details, and suggested communication lines have been cut.

Government news website IRNA said the president’s helicopter is believed to have crashed in the Dizmar Protected Area, a forested and mountainous zone.

There is no confirmation on what type of helicopter was carrying the president and his team.

Iran operates a variety of helicopters, but decades of sanctions have made it difficult to purchase new aircraft or obtain parts.

Many of the military aircraft currently in service in Iran date back to before the country’s 1979 revolution.

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