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A rescue team works after a helicopter carrying Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi crashed in Varsakhan, Iran’s East Azerbaijan province, on May 20. West Asia News Agency/Reuters

Late Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi’s chief of staff has released new information hours after the presidential helicopter went missing.

Gholam Hossein Esmaili was among three helicopters returning from the inauguration of a dam on Iran’s border with Azerbaijan, he said in an interview with IRINN state television, Iran’s semi-official Mehr News reported on Tuesday.

The helicopter, carrying nine people, ran into bad weather on the way back and disappeared, prompting an hour-long overnight search in the mountainous area.

On Sunday’s return flight, three helicopters took off around 1pm local time on Sunday, “The weather in the area was normal,” Esmali said, as quoted by Mehr News.

He said the weather conditions were perfect at the start of the flight in the mountain area at Varsegaon – the crash site.

“After 45 minutes in flight, the pilot of President Raisi’s helicopter in charge of the convoy ordered the other helicopters to increase altitude to avoid the nearby cloud,” Esmali said.
“However, the president’s helicopter, which was flying between the other two, suddenly disappeared,” Esmali added, as quoted by Mher news.

About 30 seconds into the flight above the clouds, Esmaili said his pilot noticed that the helicopter in the middle had disappeared. The pilot circled to look for the president’s helicopter, he said.

Esmaili said several attempts were made to contact the president’s helicopter via radio equipment, which landed in a nearby copper mine following its flight. Esmail said the pilot of the helicopter he was flying could not lower the altitude because of the clouds.

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Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdullahian and the head of the presidential security unit, the same helicopter as Raisi, did not respond to repeated calls after the helicopter went missing, Esmali said.

“The pilots of the other two helicopters contacted Captain Mostafavi, who was in charge of the presidential helicopter,” he said.

One is alive for three hours. Tabriz’s Friday prayer imam, Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Alihashem, was able to answer the pilot’s phone and said the helicopter had crashed into a ravine and he was in critical condition, Esmaili added.

After locating the crashed helicopter, Esmali said it was clear from the condition of the bodies of Raisi, Abdullahian and others that they “died instantly”.

Alehashem was alive for at least three hours after the crash and was able to speak with authorities several times before he died, Esmali said.

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