Photoshopped image falsely linked to Iranian president's deadly helicopter crash

A manipulated image of an airborne helicopter on fire has been shared in posts that falsely claimed it shows the aircraft that carried Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi moments before it crashed in May 2024, killing everyone on board. The Iranian leader's helicopter also had different features from the one pictured in the posts. 

"Photo of the Iranian presidential helicopter before the crash," read the traditional Chinese caption of a Facebook photo shared on May 20, 2024.

It appears to show flames engulfing a helicopter as it nosedives towards a hill.

Screenshot of the false Facebook post, captured on June 1, 2024

The same image was shared in Chinese elsewhere on Facebook and  social media platform X. It was also shared tens of thousands of times on X in English and Japanese, and on Instagram in Hindi.

It circulated after Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi was confirmed dead on May 20, after search and rescue teams found his crashed helicopter in a fog-shrouded western mountain region, sparking mourning in the Islamic republic.

There were no survivors among the nine people on board the aircraft.

The image, however, does not show the president's helicopter.

Photoshopped image

A reverse image search led to this image of a helicopter on the website of UK-based media outlet Alamy (archived link).

Credited to "Giorgio Calderato", the caption read: "09/09/2012 Valdagno (Italy) aerial photographic surveys with helicopter. Amprion GmbH is an important transmission system operator in Europe and operates a German extra-high voltage grid with a length of 11.000 km".

Screenshot of the image on Alamy

A subsequent keyword search led to the image shared in the false posts on the Canada-based image website iStock (archived link).

It was captioned: "Ground view looking up at a helicopter exploding mid air stock photo."

The image was uploaded on March 24, 2015, and was credited to "giocalde" – which blends Giorgio Calderato's given name and surname.

In 2022, he told AFP that the photo of the exploding helicopter was "not real" after it circulated online in India. "It was created by me with Photoshop," he said.

Below is a screenshot comparison between the falsely shared image (left) and the manipulated image posted on iStock (right):

Screenshot comparison between the falsely shared image (left) and the image posted on iStock (right)

The helicopter that carried Raisi was also painted differently from the aircraft in the manipulated image, a comparison shows.

This photo provided by Islamic Republic News Agency IRNA on May 19, 2024, shows the helicopter carrying him was a Bell 212 helicopter with a deep-blue tail rotor and white body.

AFP has highlighted the helicopter bodies and landing skids in the screenshot comparison below of the photo shared in false posts (left) and the image provided by IRNA (right):

Screenshot comparison between the photo shared in false posts (left) and the photo provided by IRNA (right)

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

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