Fact Check: Image Of Burning Helicopter Going Down Is NOT Authentic Photo Of Crash That Killed Iranian President

Fact Check

  • by: Sarah Thompson
Fact Check: Image Of Burning Helicopter Going Down Is NOT Authentic Photo Of Crash That Killed Iranian President Edited Photo

Does an image on social media show the helicopter crash that killed several government officials including Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi? No, that's not true: This image was created using digital editing tools and does not depict a real scene. A 2012 Alamy stock photo shows this helicopter fully operational, conducting aerial inspections of a high voltage grid in Italy. According to TinEye search results, a digitally edited version of the same helicopter that makes it appear to be breaking apart in flames has circulated since at least 2016. Some clipart websites offered a file of the flaming helicopter without a background, resulting in more edited images of this helicopter purportedly crashing in various locations.

The image of the flaming helicopter over a foggy mountainous landscape appeared in a post (archived here) where it was published by @AutismCapital on May 20, 2024. It was captioned:

"Difficult weather conditions"

This is how the post appeared on X at the time of writing:

(Image source: X screenshot taken on Mon May 20 15:04:59 2024 UTC)

The timing of the post -- coming a day after a helicopter crash in Iran killed that country's president, Ebrahim Raisi, and other officials with first reports indicating bad weather in the area of the crash -- implied the helicopter pictured was the one in the fatal crash.

The caption of this post combined with this image suggests that the crash was not caused by weather conditions because the helicopter was shown broken and burning before it crashed.

The scope of this fact check is not to determine the cause of the crash, but whether the photo is authentic.

It is not.

The image of the helicopter in the photo dates to 2012 and shows a helicopter of another make than the one which crashed. The image has been edited more than once over the years to produce the final image pictured above.

A May 19, 2024, photo in a Reuters.com article titled, "Ebrahim Raisi death: What do we know about the Bell 212 helicopter?" (pictured below) shows the Bell 212 helicopter that was carrying Iran's president and several government leaders before it crashed. The helicopter was mostly white with a navy blue tail and light blue graphic stripes. This is not the same model or color of helicopter that appears in the post on X. The photo is captioned:

A helicopter carrying Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi takes off, near the Iran-Azerbaijan border, May 19, 2024. The helicopter with Raisi on board later crashed. Ali Hamed Haghdoust/IRNA/WANA (West Asia News Agency)


(Image Source: Reuters.com screenshot taken on Mon May 20 15:04:59 2024 UTC)

Lead Stories used the RevEye Chrome extension to search four image search engines at once, Google, Bing, Yandex, and TinEye. In these results, Google found may duplicate copies of this image recently posted on X.

Yandex returned two clip art images with no background and several additional instances which had a sky blue background. One of the images in the catalog from Yandex was a 4256x2832 pixel, high resolution image (pictured below) of the burning helicopter. The image was no longer showing at the link, so Lead Stories did yet another RevEye search for the JPG file in the Yandex search result.


(Image source: Yandex.com screenshot taken on Mon May 20 15:31:00 2024 UTC)

This secondary search yielded more results predating the May 19, 2024, crash (pictured in the composite image below). One Yandex result was a clickbait image titled "Kobe Crash Raw Photo," which linked to a site featuring many photos of a 2020 Calabasas, California, crash site -- but not featuring this image of a burning helicopter going down.

Another clickbait title returned by Google's image search was an April 4, 2024, YouTube video titled, "Tragic Moments! Shocking Catastrophic Failures Caught On Camera Leaves You Unimaginable." This video uses the still image of the flaming helicopter (with even more added flames) for the video's thumbnail, but this image does not appear in the video. Another Google image search result linked to a January 22, 2024, News18.com article, "Why Helicopters Are More Prone To Crashes Than Planes"


(Image source: Lead Stories composite image using Yandex, Google and news18.com screenshots taken on Mon May 20 16:23:19 2024 UTC)

The TinEye search engine returned a mix of images including the edited version of the burning helicopter with its tail broken, as well as stock images of the helicopter operational and in perfect condition. Although the Alamy image was not indexed until 2021, the caption on the stock photo says it was taken on September 9, 2012. The caption reads:

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

Additional photos of this aircraft on the Alamy site clearly show the registration number S5-HCE of this Eurocopter EC-120B Colibri, which according to airport-data.com, is based in Belgium. The paint colors scheme appears to be a light grey base with a dark grey camouflage patter on the upper surfaces and a few accents of bright orange.


(Image source: Lead Stories composite image using TinEye and Alamy.com screenshots taken on Mon May 20 16:23:19 2024 UTC)

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  Sarah Thompson

Sarah Thompson lives with her family and pets on a small farm in Indiana. She founded a Facebook page and a blog called “Exploiting the Niche” in 2017 to help others learn about manipulative tactics and avoid scams on social media. Since then she has collaborated with journalists in the USA, Canada and Australia and since December 2019 she works as a Social Media Authenticity Analyst at Lead Stories.


Read more about or contact Sarah Thompson

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