People gather as a medical transport vehicle carrying the body of Chile's former President Sebastian Pinera arrives at a medical facility after Pinera died in a helicopter crash [Source: Reuters]
Chilean ex-President Sebastian Pinera died in a helicopter crash, sending the country he led for two terms into mourning and prompting an outpouring of condolences from leaders across Latin America.
The helicopter carrying Pinera, 74, and three others plunged into a lake in southern Chile. The former president was pronounced dead shortly after rescue personnel arrived at the scene. The other three passengers survived.
Two sources told Reuters Pinera was the pilot, although officials have not confirmed that, nor the helicopter’s intended destination.
Pinera often spent the Southern Hemisphere summers near the picturesque lakes that dot Chile’s south, and frequently piloted his own helicopter.
President Gabriel Boric declared three days of national mourning, while preparations have begun for a state funeral on Friday for the former leader, who served two non-consecutive terms between 2010 and 2022.
Interior Minister Carolina Toha said the ex-president’s body had been recovered from the lake, near the town of Lago Ranco.
Pinera was perhaps best known abroad for his role overseeing the spectacular rescue in 2010 of 33 miners who were trapped underneath the Atacama desert. The event became a global media sensation and was the subject of a 2014 movie, “The 33.”
In Chile, he was known as a successful businessman whose first term was boosted by rapid economic growth but who was often seen as out-of-touch with the country’s fast-changing society.
Both his presidencies were marred by frequent protests – of students demanding education reform in the first term, and of wider and often violent protests against inequality in his second term that ended with the government promising to draft a new constitution.
After leaving the presidency, Pinera remained active in politics, speaking out on issues like the attempt to draft a new constitution – which ultimately failed – and backing conservative politicians in the region, including Argentine President Javier Milei.
Former Argentine President Mauricio Macri expressed his sadness at the news of Pinera’s death. “He was a good person, committed like no one else to Chile and to the values of freedom and democracy in Latin America,” he said.