Photo shows crashed Texas helicopter, not Iranian president's aircraft

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was confirmed dead after search and rescue teams found his crashed helicopter in May 2024, but a photo being shared across platforms does not show the wreckage. The chopper in the image, marked "N204TX," belongs to the US state of Texas and crashed in January.

"BREAKING The wreckage of Iranian President Raisi's helicopter has been found," says a May 19, 2024 post on X.

Screenshot from X taken May 20, 2024

Similar posts -- which show a white helicopter with black stripes in a wooded area -- spread in various languages across X, Instagram and other platforms after the Iranian president's aircraft lost radio contact and went missing May 19, prompting an all-night search and rescue operation.

The crews eventually located the wreckage in a fog-shrouded western mountain region of the country. Raisi -- who was returning from East Azerbaijan province, where he inaugurated a dam project -- was confirmed dead the next day, along with all on board.

But the picture shared online is unrelated to the accident -- it is one of several that have been misrepresented on social media.

Reverse image searches surfaced the photo and other images of the aircraft in articles about a Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) helicopter that crashed January 11 while tracking migrants near the US border with Mexico (archived here, here and here).

Screenshot from X taken May 21, 2024

DPS press secretary Sheridan Nolen told AFP in a May 21 email that the photo originated with the department.

"The helicopter in the image you reference is a DPS AS350 B2 that went down in Kinney County back in January 2024," Nolen said. "No DPS helicopter of any make or model has ever operated in Iran."

The department said in a statement the night of the incident that the helicopter was flying in support of Operation Lone Star, a border security initiative launched by Republican Governor Greg Abbott (archived here). The pilot and copilot experienced a total loss of power during the flight and made contact with the ground, damaging the helicopter and leaving the copilot with a minor hand injury.

The number on the helicopter, "N204TX," corresponds to an AS350 B2 rotorcraft owned by DPS, according to the US Federal Aviation Administration's aircraft registry (archived here). An emblem in the shape of Texas also appears on the aircraft's side.

The chopper carrying Raisi on May 19, meanwhile, was a blue and white Bell 212.

Rescue team members work at the crash site of a helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Varzaghan, northwestern Iran on May 20, 2024 (MOJ News Agency / Azin HAGHIGHI)

AFP has debunked other misinformation about Raisi's death here.

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