Published: 19:54, May 22, 2024
Iran’s Supreme Leader leads Raisi’s funeral prayers
By Mike Gu in Hong Kong
Iranians follow trucks carrying coffins of the late President Ebrahim Raisi and his companions who were killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday in a mountainous region of the country's northwest, during a funeral ceremony for them in Tehran, Iran, May 22, 2024. (PHOTO / AP)

Standing solemnly at the center of the front row of huge mourning crowds, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Al Seyyed Ali Khamenei performed prays during a funeral ceremony at the University of Tehran, before them resting the coffins of President Ebrahim Raisi and his companions all in national flag-colored wrap.

The praying voice of the Supreme Leader on May 22 brought about echoes of rows of people behind, spread across the nation and beyond on TV and online, according to Iran’s Islamic Republic News Agency, or IRNA.

On the fateful day returning from the inauguration of Qiz-Qalasi Dam, a joint Iran-Azerbaijan project, Raisi’s helicopter, which was flying between two others, suddenly disappeared while they were trying to avoid clouds

Leaving after the event without any further speech, Ali Khamenei went on and met with more than a dozen incoming foreign heads of state and government participating in the farewell ceremonies for the late president martyred in a helicopter accident Sunday, Iran International Newsroom said.

READ MORE: Xi sends condolences over Raisi's death

More than 40 high-ranking foreign delegations were in Teheran for the event, according to IRNA.  

Thousands of people, including heads of the Iranian government branches and military officials, gathered at the university campus to pay their respects to Raisi and his companions. Yet from dawn till late afternoon, mourners in black dresses lined up streets, gathered at squares and mosques, many of them having rushed in from across the country.  

Photos of the late president, plates and banners were often seen among them. One of them read "it is the day of mourning", the other, "It's an honor that I voted for a martyr."

Raisi's body was later placed at Teheran’s Grand Mosalla Mosque on May 22 before being transferred to his hometown of Mashhad, in eastern Iran, for burial on May 23, IRNA reported.  

On the fateful day returning from the inauguration of Qiz-Qalasi Dam, a joint Iran-Azerbaijan project, Raisi’s helicopter, which was flying between two others, suddenly disappeared while they were trying to avoid clouds.

Even after the accident deep in the mountains, Iran’s presidential chief of staff succeeded in contacting one of the victims, Tabriz Friday prayer Seyyed Mohammad Ali Ale-Hashem who succumbed hours later, according to Iranian news agencies.

Several attempts to contact the president’s helicopter through radio devices proved to no avail, and while it was unable to decrease altitude because of the clouds, the two helicopters continued the flight and landed at a nearby copper mine

In his recount during an interview with the Iranian state TV, the official Gholamhossein Esmaili said the helicopters were trying to avoid a nearby cloud before the tragedy. He was on board one of the three helicopters of Raisi’s delegation returning from the inauguration of Qiz-Qalasi Dam, a joint Iran-Azerbaijan project.

Esmaili said the helicopters had taken off at around 1:00 pm local time on May 19 when the weather condition was normal, reported Iran’s Islamic Republic News Agency, or IRNA

After 45 minutes into the flight, the pilot of the president’s helicopter who was in charge of the convoy, ordered other helicopters to increase altitude to avoid nearby clouds, Esmaili said.  Below them was the Dizmar forest, nestled between the cities of Varzaqan and Jolfa in East Azarbaijan province.

However, “after 30 seconds of flying over the clouds, our pilot noticed that the helicopter in the middle had disappeared,” he said.

His pilot began circling and returning to search for the president’s helicopter, only to find their views handicapped by poor weather conditions, reported Mehr News Agency of Iran.

Several attempts to contact the president’s helicopter through radio devices proved to no avail, and while it was unable to decrease altitude because of the clouds, the two helicopters continued the flight and landed at a nearby copper mine.

Sadly, neither Iranian Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian nor head of the president’s guard unit responded to repeated calls afterwards, Esmaili told the media.

Suddenly, the voice of prayer leader Ale-Hashem, came in when the pilots of the two other helicopters tried to contact Captain Seyed Taher Mostafavi, who was in charge of the president’s helicopter.

The body of Ale-Hashem was the only one found in a better physical condition among all nine victims, the head of Iran’s Crisis Management Agency, Mohammad-Hassan Nami, told International Metalworking News for Asia (IMNA)

The prayer leader, who managed to take the call, was apparently not in a good situation but revealed the copter had gone down into a valley, Easmaili added. In a hurry, Esmaili himself made a second contact with Ale-Hashem and received the same answers about the situation.

Yet heavy fog and rains prevented the rescuers to locate the exact spot immediately, according to Mehr News Agency.

READ MORE: Iran's leader appoints 1st VP as acting president

“When we found the location of the accident, the conditions of the bodies indicated that President Raisi and other companions had died instantly but Ale-Hashem had been martyred after hours,” Esmaili said.

The body of Ale-Hashem was the only one found in a better physical condition among all nine victims, the head of Iran’s Crisis Management Agency, Mohammad-Hassan Nami, told International Metalworking News for Asia (IMNA).

Others martyred in the crash included East Azarbaijan Governor Malek Rahmati, two pilots, and a crew member, according to a Tehran Times report.

 

Contact the writer at mikegu@chinadailyhk.com