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

Special 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

Iran’s President Raisi and FM Amir-Abdollahian join a long list of world leaders who have perished in air disasters
  • The duo perished on Sunday when the helicopter carrying them crashed in a mountainous region of northern Iran
  • At least two dozen top officials and serving heads of state have died in plane and helicopter crashes over the 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.

 


$230m US humanitarian pier in Gaza operational for only 12 days

$230m US humanitarian pier in Gaza operational for only 12 days
Updated 58 min 18 sec ago
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$230m US humanitarian pier in Gaza operational for only 12 days

$230m US humanitarian pier in Gaza operational for only 12 days
  • Pier has allowed for the delivery of roughly 250 truckloads of aid, less than half of the pre-war daily deliveries to Gaza

LONDON: The $230 million floating pier built by the US military for seaborne humanitarian deliveries to Gaza has been operational for only 12 days since its inauguration on May 17, The Guardian reported on Sunday.

On March 7, US President Joe Biden announced that the temporary pier “would enable a massive increase in the amount of humanitarian assistance getting into Gaza every day.”

The construction of the two necessary structures — a floating dock anchored offshore and a pier connected to the Gazan coast — took more than two months and involved about 1,000 soldiers, sailors and several ships, including the Royal Navy’s landing ship, Cardigan Bay, which served as accommodation.

Since its launch, the pier has allowed for the delivery of approximately 250 truckloads of aid, equating to 4,100 tonnes of supplies, which is less than half of the pre-war daily deliveries to Gaza. The aid arriving by sea has often remained on the beach due to a lack of trucks for distribution, a result of security concerns.

Rough seas in the eastern Mediterranean have posed unexpected challenges, rendering the joint logistics over-the-shore system less effective than anticipated. The structure was designed to operate in sea conditions up to “sea state 3,” with waves between 0.5 and 1.25 metres. However, it sustained damage during a storm on May 25 and has faced unseasonably choppy waters since then.

After repairs in Ashdod, Israel, the pier resumed operations on June 8 but faced further interruptions. It was dismantled again on June 14 as a precaution against impending storms. Despite being reinstalled, there are reports suggesting that the pier’s vulnerability to weather might lead to it being dismantled early, possibly as soon as next month.

“They just miscalculated,” Stephen Morrison, a senior vice-president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told The Guardian. “They didn’t fully understand what was going to happen with the weather … so the DoD [Department of Defence] walks away, humiliated in a fashion.”

While acknowledging the difficulties, the Pentagon has not confirmed plans for an early termination of the mission.

“We have not established an end date for this mission as of now, contrary to some press reporting on the matter,” chief spokesperson Maj Gen Patrick Ryder told The Guardian on Thursday.

The floating pier was intended to provide an alternative means of delivering aid to Gaza, bypassing Israeli land restrictions. However, aid workers expressed concerns that the significant resources invested in the effort detracted from political pressure on Israel to open land crossings, which remain the most effective way to deliver aid.

Ziad Issa, head of policy and research at Action Aid, noted a decline in aid deliveries to Gaza, with an average of fewer than 100 trucks arriving daily in early June.

The severe security conditions have hindered the distribution of aid in Gaza. The Rafah crossing from Egypt has been closed since May 7, following an Israeli military offensive, and the alternative Keren Shalom crossing in southern Israel has proved dangerous due to the volatile situation.

“It’s unsafe for aid workers and trucks to move because of the ongoing bombardments on Gaza,” Issa told The Guardian. The Israelis announced a “tactical pause” last week to allow an aid corridor through southern Gaza, but Issa said: “We haven’t seen any difference since these tactical pauses have come in place.”


 


Jordan, USAID to launch rehabilitation project in Salt

Jordan, USAID to launch rehabilitation project in Salt
Updated 23 June 2024
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Jordan, USAID to launch rehabilitation project in Salt

Jordan, USAID to launch rehabilitation project in Salt
  • Works will improve the bus stop complex and Friday market square

AMMAN: Muhammad Hiyari, mayor of the Greater Salt Municipality in Jordan, on Sunday announced that the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Municipal Support Program will implement a rehabilitation project in the Salt region.

The works will improve the bus stop complex and Friday market square. During a site tour, Hiyari said that the 10-dunum (one hectare) project will be completed in stages to minimize disruption to Friday market traders, Jordan News Agency reported.

The initiative includes the renovation of bus stops, upgrading infrastructure, sidewalks and sanitary facilities, as well as building aesthetic walls that reflect the region’s heritage.

Additionally, a modern hangar with contemporary designs will be built.

The project is expected to create approximately 100 job opportunities for local residents, with the municipality aiming to maximize the potential of Salt’s youth.


 


Jordan delivers 70 trucks of humanitarian aid to north Gaza

Jordan delivers 70 trucks of humanitarian aid to north Gaza
Updated 23 June 2024
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Jordan delivers 70 trucks of humanitarian aid to north Gaza

Jordan delivers 70 trucks of humanitarian aid to north Gaza
  • Trucks include food parcels, medical supplies and medicines, will be distributed to Palestinian civilians

AMMAN: Jordan announced on Sunday that a convoy of 70 trucks containing humanitarian aid had entered northern Gaza, Jordan News Agency reported.

The contents of the trucks, including food parcels, medical supplies and medicines, will be distributed to Palestinian civilians via partner associations and organizations in the northern areas of the enclave.

The convoy was sent by the Jordanian Armed Forces-Arab Army and the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization. It was sent in collaboration with the World Food Programme and funded by several organizations and businesses, among them Islamic Relief Worldwide, the Kuwait Society for Relief, Al-Imdaad Association, Taalof Alkhair and Arabian Medical Relief.

JHCO Secretary-General Hussein Shibli warned that the suffering of Gaza’s population could lead to a humanitarian catastrophe, with reports pointing to an impending famine in Gaza.

Shibli said that Jordanian efforts to deliver humanitarian aid are ongoing and that, to date, the number of trucks to have entered Gaza had reached 2,110, in addition to 53 planes via El-Arish in Egypt.


 


Israel’s defense chief to discuss Gaza war, Lebanon hostilities on US trip

Israel’s defense chief to discuss Gaza war, Lebanon hostilities on US trip
Updated 23 June 2024
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Israel’s defense chief to discuss Gaza war, Lebanon hostilities on US trip

Israel’s defense chief to discuss Gaza war, Lebanon hostilities on US trip
  • Visit comes amid concerns over conflict spreading
  • Gallant wants clearer post-war plan for Gaza

JERUSALEM: Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant is headed to Washington on Sunday to discuss the next phase of the Gaza war and escalating hostilities on the border with Lebanon, where exchanges of fire with Hezbollah have stoked fears of wider conflict.
Iran-backed Hezbollah began attacking Israel shortly after Hamas’ Oct. 7 assault sparked the war in Gaza, and the sides have been trading blows in the months since then. Hezbollah has said it will not stop until there is a ceasefire in Gaza.
“We are prepared for any action that may be required in Gaza, Lebanon, and in more areas,” Gallant said in a statement before setting off to Washington, where he said he would meet his counterpart Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Earlier in June, Hezbollah targeted Israeli towns and military sites with the largest volleys of rockets and drones in the hostilities so far, after an Israeli strike killed the most senior Hezbollah commander yet.
US envoy Amos Hochstein visited Israel and Lebanon last week in an attempt to cool tensions, amid an uptick in cross-border fire and an escalation in rhetoric on both sides. An Israeli soldier was severely wounded on Sunday by a drone strike, the military said.
Some Israeli officials have linked the ongoing Israeli push into Rafah — the southern area of Gaza where it says it is targeting the last battalions of Hamas — to a potential focus on Lebanon.
Gallant appeared to make the same link in his statement.
“The transition to Phase C in Gaza is of great importance. I will discuss this transition with US officials, how it may enable additional things and I know that we will achieve close cooperation with the US on this issue as well,” Gallant said.
Scaling back Gaza operations would free up forces to take on Hezbollah, if Israel were to launch a ground offensive or step up its aerial bombardments.
POST-WAR PLAN
Officials have described the third and last phase of Israel’s Gaza offensive as winding down fighting while stepping up efforts to stabilize a post-Hamas rule and begin reconstruction in the enclave, much of which has been laid to waste.
Gallant, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, has sparred with the premier in the past few months, calling for a clearer post-war plan for Gaza that will not leave Israel in charge, a demand echoed by the White House.
Netanyahu has been walking a tightrope as he seeks to keep his government together by balancing the demands of the defense establishment, including ex-generals like Gallant, and far-right coalition partners who have resisted any post-Gaza strategy that could open the way to a future Palestinian state.
The head of Israel’s parliamentary Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Yuli Edelstein, told Army Radio on Sunday that fighting Hezbollah would be complex either way, now or later.
“We are not in the right position to conduct fighting on both the southern front and the northern front. We will have to deploy differently in the south in order to fight in the north,” said Edelstein, also a Likud member.
Edelstein criticized a video by Netanyahu released last week in which the prime minister said the Biden administration was “withholding weapons and ammunitions to Israel.” The video led to a spat with the White House.
President Joe Biden’s administration paused a shipment of 2,000 pound and 500-pound bombs in May over concerns about their impact if used in densely-populated areas of Gaza. Israel was still due to get billions of dollars worth of UA weaponry.
“I hope that in the discussions behind closed doors much more will be achieved than by attempts to create pressure with videos,” Edelstein said, referring to Gallant’s trip.
Israel’s ground and air campaign in Gaza was triggered when Hamas fighters stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.
The offensive has killed more than 37,400 people, according to Palestinian health authorities, and left nearly the entire population of the enclave homeless and destitute.


Red Sea ship damaged after Houthi drone attack

Houthi fighters march during a rally of support for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and against the US strikes on Yemen.
Houthi fighters march during a rally of support for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and against the US strikes on Yemen.
Updated 23 June 2024
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Red Sea ship damaged after Houthi drone attack

Houthi fighters march during a rally of support for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and against the US strikes on Yemen.
  • The attack in the Red Sea came only hours after the Houthis claimed they had targeted ships in Israel, the Red Sea, and the Arabian Sea

AL-MUKALLA: A commercial ship cruising along Yemen’s Red Sea coast was damaged after being attacked by a drone suspected to have been operated by Yemen’s Houthi militia, two UK maritime security agencies said on Sunday.

The attack in the Red Sea came only hours after the Houthis claimed they had targeted ships in Israel, the Red Sea, and the Arabian Sea.

The UK Maritime Trade Operations said it was notified by the master of a commercial ship about an uncrewed aircraft system hitting and damaging the ship in the Red Sea 65 nautical miles west of Hodeidah in Yemen, and that the ship’s crew members were safe.

“The vessel is proceeding to its next port of call,” UKMTO said in a notice on X.

Ambrey, a UK maritime security service, said that the ship is a “fully cellular container ship” flying the Liberian flag.

This comes as the Houthis said on Sunday morning that they had conducted two combined military operations with the Islamic Resistance group in Iraq against five ships in Israel’s Haifa port and the Mediterranean.

In a televised statement, Houthi military spokesman Yahya Sarea said that their forces and the Iraqi militia used drones to strike four ships in Haifa, including two cement ships and two cargo ships.

The second operation included firing a drone at the Shorthorn Express ship in the Mediterranean as it approached Haifa. 

Sarea claimed the five ships were targeted because they violated the militia’s ban on vessels visiting Israeli ports.

Hours earlier, a Houthi military spokesman claimed to have launched ballistic missile attacks on the US aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Red Sea and the commercial ship Transworld Navigator in the Arabian Sea.

According to marinetraffic.com, which provides information regarding ship whereabouts and identities, the Transworld Navigator is a Liberian-flagged bulk carrier traveling from China to the Suez Canal and the Shorthorn Express, a cattle carrier sailing under the flag of Luxembourg, left Haifa for Malta on Sunday.

Since November, the Houthis have seized one commercial ship, sunk another, and launched hundreds of ballistic missiles, drones, and explosive-laden drone boats against commercial and navy vessels in international waters near Yemen, the Indian Ocean, and the Mediterranean.

The Houthis say they solely targeted Israeli-linked ships and those ships heading to Israel to pressure Israel to cease its war in the Palestinian Gaza Strip.

At the same time, US Central Command said on Sunday morning that its forces had destroyed three Houthi drones in the Red Sea in the previous 24 hours and that the Houthis had also launched three anti-ship ballistic missiles into the Gulf of Aden from Yemeni territory under their control.

The missiles did not strike any US-led marine coalition ships or other commercial ships operating on critical commerce lanes off Yemen.

“This continued malign and reckless behavior by the Iranian-backed Houthis threatens regional stability and endangers the lives of mariners across the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden,” the US military said in a statement, denying the Houthi claims of attacking the Eisenhower.

“Recent claims about a successful attack by Houthi forces on the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) are categorically false.”

On Monday, Centcom said that the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier is traveling to the Red Sea to prevent Houthi attacks on shipping, replacing the Eisenhower, which will return to the US.

Meanwhile, the Houthis freed a Bahai sect member in Sanaa after detaining him for more than a year. In a post on X, the Bahai International Community said on Saturday that the Houthis had freed Abdullah Al-Olofi but are still keeping four others, who were among 17 Bahais abducted by the Houthis in May 2023 after raiding their meeting in Sanaa, captive.

The Houthis have conducted a crackdown on Yemen’s Bahai minority, accusing them of being unbelievers and conspiring with the US and Israel.