Chile’s ex-president ‘drowned in lake’ after helicopter crash

7 February 2024, 20:04

Chile Pinera Funeral
Chile Pinera Funeral. Picture: PA

Chilean President Gabriel Boric received Sebastian Pinera’s body at Santiago airport, accompanied by his widow, Cecilia Morel, and other relatives.

Chilean officials have released more details about the death of former president Sebastian Pinera, saying he drowned after the helicopter he was piloting crashed into a lake.

Mr Pinera died on Tuesday after a flight over Lake Ranco, more than 560 miles south of Santiago. The crash remains under investigation but bad weather conditions were reported in the area.

As more details of his death were released, tributes hailing him as a champion of democracy continued to pour in.

On Tuesday night, the former president’s body was taken to Valdivia for a post-mortem. On Wednesday morning, Chilean President Gabriel Boric received Mr Pinera’s body at Santiago airport, accompanied by his widow, Cecilia Morel, and other relatives.

Chile Pinera Funeral
Cecilia Morel, bottom, left, the widow of former Chilean president Sebastian Pinera, receives condolences next to her husband’s coffin after it arrived at the Congress building in Santiago (Esteban Felix/AP)

The public can start paying their last respects to Mr Pinera on Wednesday night, with a state funeral to be held on Friday.

Mr Pinera was an experienced helicopter pilot, former defence minister Alberto Espina said on Tuesday night, and was flying the aircraft carrying three other people who survived the crash.

The crash occurred shortly after take-off in an area that Mr Pinera knew well. The former president had a summer residence there, which he frequented for adventure sports.

After the news of his death on Tuesday, the political world reacted with messages of condolences, honouring the leader as a democratic beacon in a country once plagued by a military dictatorship. Thousands of Chileans paid tribute to him.

He served two terms — from 2010 to 2014 and again from 2018 to 2022. Mr Boric declared three days of national mourning. Mr Pinera’s death came as Chile was recovering from deadly wildfires in the country’s central region.

Chile Pinera Funeral
Cecilia Morel stands with Chilean President Gabriel Boric to receive Mr Pinera’s coffin (Esteban Felix/AP)

Mr Pinera led Chile during moments of profound crisis, including a devastating earthquake and tsunami and during the coronavirus pandemic, in which Chile became one of the global leaders for vaccination.

He was also president during the rescue of 33 miners trapped in a mine in the barren Atacama Desert for 69 days that captured the world’s attention.

Jimmy Sanchez, one of the rescued miners, said that it was a pleasure to meet Mr Pinera.

“I am very grateful,” Mr Sanchez said. “He gave us our lives back.”

But his legacy was marred by his government’s violent repression of protesters in 2019, being accused of using disproportionate force against demonstrators and torturing detainees.

He was the first person from the political right to lead the South American country since Chile’s return to democracy in 1990.

By Press Association

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