Two female journalists were killed and at least 22 others injured after a bus carrying them overturned in Iran’s West Azerbaijan province on Wednesday.
The bus packed with local journalists was on its way from Tehran to Lake Urmia, nestled between the provinces of East Azerbaijan and West Azerbaijan, in northwestern Iran, when the accident took place, according to officials.
Two journalists killed in the deadly crash were identified as Reyhaneh Yassini who worked for state-run Iran Republic News Agency (IRNA) and Mahshad Karimi who worked for semi-government Iran Students News Agency (ISNA).
According to officials in West Azerbaijan, the journalists were traveling to the region to report on the revitalization of Lake Urmia, Iran’s largest wetland and one of the biggest saltwater lakes in the world.
The lake, once considered the largest salt-water lake in the Middle East region, has over the years shrunk substantially, becoming a cause of grave concern.
The injured journalists were shifted to nearby hospitals in West Azerbaijan, with some reported to be in critical condition.
The incident drew reactions from many government officials, including President Hassan Rouhani, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and Rouhani’s chief of staff Mahmoud Vaezi.
The president just issued a statement on the accident, saying it “caused deep sorrow and shock”.
“While honoring the valuable services of these hard-working journalists having no other concern but to serve Iran, I express my condolences to bereaved families and members of the country’s media,” he said.
Offering his “sincere condolences,” Zarif in a statement posted on Twitter said he was “greatly moved” after hearing the news.
Vaezi in a statement posted on Instagram said he was in contact with provincial officials in West Azerbaijan and had asked them to “use all available capacities” to treat the wounded.
“The tragic accident of the overturning of a bus carrying journalists in West Azerbaijan province and the death of two women journalists is a tragedy,” he said, adding that the journalists had travelled there to show “environmental success,” referring to the revival of Lake Urmia.
According to officials, the cause of the accident was “high driving speed,” due to which the driver lost control of the bus.
Ali Nikzad, campaign head of Iran’s President-elect Ebrahim Raeisi, in a statement termed the accident “tragic”. He said he was in contact with the governor of West Azerbaijan.
Ali Rabaie, spokesman for the Iranian government, and Saeed Khatibzaeh, spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry, also issued separate statements, offering condolences over the death of two journalists.
In a statement with details about the accident, Iran’s Environmental Protection Agency said the journalists were traveling to the region at the invitation of Urmia Lake Rehabilitation Headquarters.
The contingent included 20 journalists from local media, four officials from the environmental organization and two staff members of the Urmia Lake Rehabilitation Headquarters.
After arriving in Urmia city, the group went to visit the Zab tunnel in Piranshahr city located in West Azerbaijan, and on the way the accident took place.