Claim: The helicopter of late Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was “shot out of [the] sky by a space laser”, killing him and Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, as well as other high-ranking officials. An accompanying image shows the aircraft ablaze over a mountainous area.

Fact: There’s no evidence that Raisi’s helicopter was “shot out of the sky by a space laser”. The accompanying image has been fabricated using an old, unrelated stock photo.

On 20 May 2024, X (formerly Twitter) user @DianaWallace888 posted (archive) an image that shows an aircraft engulfed in flames seen over a mountainous area, alongside the following caption:

“If nobody else is going to say it then I will. The president of Iran obviously had his helicopter shot out of the sky by a space laser!”

Raisi, top Iran officials dead in crash

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi, along with Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and other top state officials, died when a helicopter carrying them crashed in Dizmar Protected Area, a region in the country’s northwest, according to a report (archive) by Al Jazeera, which cited state media.

Other officials aboard the flight, who died alongside Raisi, included the governor of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province, Malek Rahmati, the representative of Iran’s Supreme Leader to East Azerbaijan, Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Ale-Hashem, and the head of the president’s security team, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Brigadier-General Sardar Seyed Mehdi Mousavi, along with three flight crew members.

IRGC Commander-in-Chief Major General Hossein Salami identified the pilots as Colonels Seyed Taher Mostafavi and Mohsen Daryanush, as well as a flight technician named Major Behrouz Ghadimi, according to these reports (archived here and here).

The head of the Iranian Red Crescent Society (IRCS), Pir Hossein Kolivand, confirmed (archive) the deaths of all the people inside the ill-fated helicopter, saying, “There have been no indications that the people inside the helicopter are alive.”

The late Iranian president was returning from the inauguration of a cooperative dam project, carried out alongside Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. His was the only helicopter among the convoy of three that met the accident, with the other two landing safely.

The helicopter — a US-made Bell 212 — had “slammed into a mountain peak” but “there was no official word on the cause of the crash”, Reuters reported (archive), citing Iranian state media. “Rescue teams fought rain, blizzards, and difficult terrain through the night to reach the wreckage in the early hours of Monday.”

Also read: Video does not show Ebrahim Raisi’s chopper shot down in Iran

The over 18-hour rescue operations were hampered by “harsh weather conditions over mountainous terrain”, including heavy fog and rain, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) said (archive).

In another report (archive), the IRNA noted that Gholamhossein Esmaili, Iran’s presidential chief of staff who was in one of the other two helicopters in the convoy, said Raisi’s aircraft had disappeared suddenly and, when the other two circled back briefly to search for it, they were unable to locate it.

Esmaili added that he, along with other officials, tried contacting Captain Mostafavi, who was leading Raisi’s helicopter, “but the one who took the call was Tabriz Friday prayer leader Mohammad Ali Ale-Hashem, whose situation was not good but said the copter had crashed into a valley”, according to the IRNA. The Khamenei representative was alive for more than an hour but “martyred after several hours”, he said.

Read more: Picture does not show Iranian president safe after helicopter accident

Supreme Leader Khamenei announced (archive) “five days of public mourning” and confirmed (archive) that Iranian Vice President Mohammad Mokhber would take over Raisi’s position. The BBC reported (archive) that Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani was appointed as acting foreign minister by the Cabinet.

Iranian state media broadcast the IRCS drone footage of the helicopter wreckage, showing “the crash site on a steep, wooded hillside, with little remaining of the helicopter beyond a blue and white tail”, according to CNN’s report (archive). The outlet said it confirmed the “geolocation of the crash site to the mountainous region in Varzeghan, near the village of Uzi” in the East Azerbaijan province.

Fact or Fiction?

Soch Fact Check reverse-searched the viral image and found that it was fabricated using a background of a mountainous region and a photograph of a helicopter on fire. The picture has been used elsewhere — sans the background — as thumbnails of YouTube videos such as those published here (archive) and here (archive) in September 2022 and April 2024, respectively.

Yandex Reverse Image Search led to two results: one is a picture of the same helicopter without the background in a portable network graphics (PNG) format — the link to which does not work anymore — and the second is a flipped version of the same posted (archive) on Instagram in 2021.

The picture of the burning helicopter has also been used as a representational image in various news reports in the past here, here, here, and here. Its earliest appearance can be traced back to a 2019 article (archive).

Related: Video does not show Turkey’s search operation for Iranian President

Some of these reports — here, here, and here — have credited the Canada-based stock photography website, iStock, and the US-based royalty-free images website, Depositphotos, as their source.

The image was uploaded on iStock and Depositphotos on 24 March 2015 (archive) and 13 March 2015 (archive). Interestingly, in the related pictures available on Depositphotos, we found what appears to be the original photo (archive) depicting an undamaged, intact helicopter.

Therefore, Soch Fact Check concludes that the viral image circulating with the claim that it shows Raisi’s helicopter being “shot out of the sky by a space laser” was actually fabricated using an old, unrelated stock photo.


The post by @DianaWallace888 has garnered a whopping 9.2 million views as of writing time.

Soch Fact Check found that the image was also linked to the crash of Raisi’s helicopter on X here and implying that it shows the same here. It was also shared here on YouTube and here in a news article.

The visual was also shared with the false claim on Facebook here, here, here, here, and here. It was also turned into a Reel and shared here and here.

Conclusion: The viral image claiming to show Raisi’s helicopter was “shot out of the sky by a space laser” has been fabricated using an old, unrelated stock photo.

(Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include the names of the helicopter pilots, Colonels Seyed Taher Mostafavi and Mohsen Daryanush, and a flight technician named Major Behrouz Ghadimi. We have also corrected the name of the deceased head of the president’s security team; it is actually IRGC Brigadier-General Sardar Seyed Mehdi Mousavi, not IRGC Brigadier-General Mohammad Mehdi Mousavi.)

Background image in cover photo: @raisi_com

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