An expert provides information on the alleged cause of the helicopter crash that killed the president of Iran

ABC News contributor Colonel Steve Ganyard spoke with “Start Here.”

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and other officials were killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday near Iran’s northern border with Azerbaijan, Iranian state media said Monday morning.

The helicopter was part of a convoy of three helicopters returning from a groundbreaking event for a joint dam project when it crashed in dense fog in a remote area on Sunday. Fog and rugged terrain made search operations difficult. The eight bodies on board were found on Monday.

Raisi’s death comes amid rising international tensions and increased speculation over who will eventually replace Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Raisi was widely considered a potential successor.

ABC contributor Col. Steve Ganyard, a former fighter pilot and former State Department official, discussed the crash – and the political fallout within Iran and elsewhere – Monday morning with “Start Here.”

START HERE: What do we know so far about this incident?

GANYARD: It seems to be a pretty classic mishap that happens when helicopter pilots try to dodge the weather in very mountainous terrain. So we know that there was a lot of fog in the area. We know they had dignitaries, very important people, which often puts an extra burden, at least mentally, on the pilots to make sure they get to their destination. And when you’re flying in the mountains and you have very low visibility, there’s a natural tendency for helicopter pilots to start descending and try to get lower and try to get under the fog or the cloud cover. And they know they can put the plane on the ground if necessary. But many times this leads to tragedy. If you remember, earlier this year, in February, a Marine Corps helicopter was trying to do exactly this, trying to get back to San Diego and in the mountains above San Diego, just east of San Diego, it crashed. . And unfortunately, all the Marines on board lost their lives.

START HERE: We are facing an area with dense forest, a lot of rain and fog. The Iranian government said it sent rescue teams. But we don’t get much information from them. Is that typical of the Iranian state government?

GANYARD: It’s when you have a mishap that involves very high-ranking people. Obviously, this is the president of the country. He’s not the most important guy: Ayatollah Khamenei is still the most important person in terms of leadership in Iran. But he is still a very important and very public figure. In many ways, he is the elected face of Iran to the rest of the world. And there was the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Interestingly, there were two of the people most responsible for the problems Iran has been causing in the region. As we know, they are key supporters of the Houthis, key supporters of Hamas and key supporters of Hezbollah. And so, all the ills of the region and all the instability are at least directed in some way, influenced by two of the people who were in that helicopter.

START HERE: Well, and you were alluding to this, to the politics there, could this collapse change the dynamics and the way the United States views Tehran, or would you expect the hardline Raisi government to continue no matter what? happen?

GANYARD: Well, Raisi is the highest-ranking elected official in Iran, and his foreign ministers are very public foreign ministers. He is the face of relations with the rest of the world, particularly with the rest of the region. But he doesn’t actually affect the politics inside Iran. The Ayatollahs still control all power within Iran. But none of the real power lies with the president. He still corresponds to the mullahs. He still corresponds to Ayatollah Khamenei.

START HERE: Well, and I realize, Steve, there is a lot that is unknown about what really caused this accident. Obviously, the weather seems to be the main culprit. But there will be people who will wonder if Israel could have had a hand in this in some way. Is that something that is possible?

GANYARD: It’s possible. You never know. The Israelis have carried out some surprising operations inside Iran. But we also know that weather was a key issue here, and the fact that there were two other helicopters with the president’s helicopter that were able to land, but lost sight of the president’s helicopter, would suggest that it was probably weather related. But at this point, we’ll have to wait and see. Obviously, the Iranians would never admit it if the Israelis had anything to do with it, and the Israelis probably wouldn’t take responsibility in this case.

START HERE: And Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer says U.S. intelligence right now, noting that Israel was not behind this. So I want to make that clear. Steve, thank you very much for joining us.