Chile Ex-President Drowned After Crashing Into Lake

All 3 passengers in Sebastian Pinera's helicopter survived
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 6, 2024 5:27 PM CST
Updated Feb 7, 2024 5:14 PM CST
Former Chilean President Dies in Helicopter Crash
A supporter of the late Chilean President Sebastian Pinera holds pictures of him in the courtyard of the National Renewal political party headquarters, in Santiago, Chile, Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024.   (AP Photo/Matias Basualdo)
UPDATE Feb 7, 2024 5:14 PM CST

Chilean prosecutors on Wednesday released more details about the death of former President Sebastian Pinera, saying he drowned after the helicopter he was piloting crashed into a lake, the AP reports. Pinera, 74, 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. Pinera was an experienced helicopter pilot, former Defense Minister Alberto Espina said Tuesday night, and was flying the aircraft in which three other people were also traveling. All three passengers survived. The crash occurred shortly after takeoff in an area that Pinera knew well.

Feb 6, 2024 5:27 PM CST

Sebastian Pinera, the two-time former president of Chile who faced social upheaval followed by a pandemic in his second term, died Tuesday in a helicopter crash. He was 74. Chile Interior Minister Carolina Toha confirmed the death of the former president. No further details were immediately released about the cause of the accident. Serving as president from 2010 to 2014 and again from 2018 to 2022, Pinera led the South American nation during moments of crisis, including the aftermath of an 8.8 magnitude earthquake and tsunami, the AP reports. He gained a spotlight for his administration's rescue of trapped Chilean miners in 2010 , and his governance during the coronavirus pandemic, when Chile was placed among the top five countries for vaccination rates for the illness.

His legacy is marred by violent police repression in October 2019 against protesters who were demonstrating against the country's education, health and pension systems dating to the country's 1973-1990 military dictatorship. A United Nations investigation alleged that government mistreatment of detainees amounted to torture. Pinera's death came as Chile already was recovering from massive deadly wildfires in the county's central region. Chilean President Gabriel Boric honored Pinera in a speech Tuesday afternoon as a leader "seeking the best for his country," highlighting his management of the pandemic and other emergencies. "He was a democrat from the very first moment," Boric said.

story continues below

The death also drew an outpouring of condolences from leaders and former leaders across Latin America from both the left and right. Argentinian President Javier Milei sent condolences, as did his predecessor, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. "As everyone knows, we did not have the same ideas, but we were always united by a relationship of great respect: he was a right-wing man but deeply democratic," Fernandez said. Pinera was the owner of the fifth-largest fortune in Chile, estimated at some $3 billion. He ran three times for president of Chile. In 2006, he lost to socialist Michelle Bachelet; then in 2010 he defeated former President Eduardo Frei and was elected in 2010. Four years later, in 2018, he won a second four-year term after defeating a leftist independent. (More Sebastian Pinera stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.