Turkey says helicopter carrying Iran’s Raisi did not emit transponder signal, adds Turkish drone used to find wreckage

Turkey says helicopter carrying Iran’s Raisi did not emit transponder signal, adds Turkish drone used to find wreckage
The high-altitude, long-endurance Akinci drone can stay airborne for more than 24 hours. / Ukrainian defence ministry, cc-by-sa 4.0
By bne IntelliNews May 20, 2024

The helicopter that crashed causing the death of Iran’s president and foreign minister on the evening of May 19 either did not have its signal system turned on or did not possess such a transponder, Turkish Transport Minister Abdulkadir Uraloglu said on May 20.

Uraloglu informed Turkish media that since neighbouring Iran fell within Turkey’s area of responsibility for emergency response, authorities checked for a signal from the helicopter upon hearing news that it had crashed. “But unfortunately, [we think] most likely the signal system was turned off or that the helicopter did not have that signal system,” he said, as reported by Reuters.

Separately, it has emerged that a Turkish high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) Akinci drone played a central role in locating the wreckage of the helicopter that was carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his delegation, including foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.

Iranian search and rescue officials reported late on May 19 that they believed the helicopter had made a “hard landing” in a mountainous area of Iran's East Azerbaijan province, near the border of Azerbaijan, from where Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian were returing to Iran. However, adverse weather conditions, including dense fog and rain, obstructed the search mission for several hours, prompting Tehran to ask Ankara for assistance.

“Tehran requested a night vision search-and-rescue helicopter and technical help," a Turkish diplomatic source told Middle East Eye (MEE).

Subsequently, the Turkish defence ministry announced it had dispatched the Akinci drone to assist in the search.

The Akinci, produced by Turkish drone manufacturer Baykar since 2019, can fly at up to 40,000 feet (12,192 metres) and stay airborne for more than 24 hours.

“Akinci has capabilities to operate in hard terrain and foggy weather thanks to its high-altitude flight capabilities and thermal technology,” a defence industry source told MEE. “It is a very good match in this sense.”

As the Akinci conducted its surveillance mission, Turkish state news provider Anadolu Agency announced a live stream on social media platform X, which ran footage from the drone. The stream reportedly attracted 3.1mn viewers at its peak.

After less than two hours surveying for wreckage, the Akinci reported a heat source and instantly shared the image with Iranian officials. Rescue workers reached the wreckage around three hours later.

The coordinates suggested by the Akinci were in close proximity to the crash site, MEE quoted a source familiar with the operation as saying.

On May 20, there were posts on X noting that the Akinci's flight path into Iran through Tabriz airspace appeared to include a route taking it over sensitive Iranian military sites, such as the Amand rocket site, Khoi Airport, Tabriz Airport and an Iranian army rapid response base.