Former Iranian official partly blames US sanctions for the helicopter crash that killed its president

  • Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi died in a helicopter crash in northwest Iran on Sunday.

  • The crash involved a US-manufactured Bell 212 helicopter, which stopped being made in 1998.

  • Iran's former foreign minister said US aircraft sanctions against Iran could be to blame.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi died in a helicopter crash on Sunday — and the country's former foreign minister believes US sanctions were partly to blame.

Raisi, 63, and other senior officials were killed after the helicopter they were traveling in was forced to make a "hard landing" over northwest Iran, Ahmad Vahidi, the country's interior minister, told IRNA.

State TV said the helicopter crashed into a mountain. While there is no official statement on the cause, images of the crash site captured by ISNA, Iran's state students' news agency, showed heavy fog lingering over the area.

Multiple outlets, including Reuters, said the helicopter was a US-manufactured Bell 212, a model that first entered service in 1968 and stopped being made in 1998.

Iran's former foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said the US sanctions — which prohibit Iran from purchasing US-built aircraft — could be partly to blame.

In a phone interview with state TV on Monday, Zarif said the sanctions prevent Iran from having good aviation facilities.

According to part of an interview cited by Iran International and ISNA News Agency, he said the crash that killed Raisi would be "recorded in the black list of American crimes against the Iranian nation."

The US has imposed various sanctions against Iran since the seizure of the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979. Economic sanctions, including those targeting the aviation industry, were reinstated in 2018 after the US withdrew from its nuclear deal.

According to the Washington Institute, a US think tank, Iranian airlines are prohibited from purchasing aircraft that contain more than 10% US parts.

This is likely to complicate the process of updating or repairing US-manufactured aircraft that the country purchased before the sanctions took effect.

Iranian airlines operate some of the world's oldest aircraft, according to Bloomberg, which estimated the average fleet age to be over 25 years.

Farzin Nadimi, a senior fellow at The Washington Institute who specializes in Iran's security and defense affairs, told Business Insider that blaming the crash on US sanctions is a "political" move, and those who do so are "shortsighted."

Nadimi pointed out that Iran had the opportunity to phase out US-built helicopters and replace them with Russian helicopters after the first set of sanctions were imposed in 1979.

"They chose to use US helicopters because they were safer and better, even though it wasn't supported by the manufacturers," he said, adding that aircraft in Iran would have to be repaired or updated using third-party suppliers.

Nadimi said he believes "the most likely reason" for the crash could be attributed to "a chain of errors by pilots and other decision-makers that led to this accident."

According to Nadimi, one such error was the decision to fly through the fog, though he said it's not clear whether this was the pilot's decision or whether the president's staff pressured the pilot into it.

According to US military training documents cited by Reuters, the Bell 212 was developed for the Canadian military in the late 1960s and first used by Canada and the US in 1971.

There have been multiple crashes involving a Bell 212 through the years. In 2009, a Bell 212 operated by Cougar Helicopters crashed off the coast of Newfoundland in Canada. The incident, which killed 17 of the 18 people on board, was a result of an emergency landing after the aircraft lost oil pressure in one of its engines, according to First Post.

The most recent fatal crash involving a Bell 212 took place in September when a private aircraft crashed off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, according to the nonprofit Flight Safety Foundation, cited by Reuters. It is not known how many passengers were on board.

Iran's Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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