Former Chilean President Sebastián Piñera has died in a helicopter crash. Chile’s Interior Minister Carolina Tohá announced this at a press conference. President Gabriel Boric ordered three days of national mourning and a state funeral.

The crash occurred in the municipality of Lago Ranco in the Región de Los Ríos, where, according to the Chilean newspaper “La Tercera”, it was raining heavily at the time of the accident. The 74-year-old former head of state piloted the helicopter himself. Near the shore of the lake of the same name, Lago Ranco, he lost control of the helicopter, which then crashed into the water.

According to the Interior Ministry, in addition to Piñera, there were three other people on board who survived the crash and were able to reach the shore under their own power. Emergency services recovered the ex-president’s body from the water.

Heads of state express sadness

Numerous former companions and heads of state from Latin America reacted with dismay. Argentina’s President Javier Milei expressed his condolences to the Piñeras family, his friends and the Chilean people on behalf of the Argentine state. Uruguay’s President Luis Lacalle Pou and Colombia’s former President Juan Manuel Santos also expressed their sadness. “Sebastián Piñera was a good personal friend and a great ally of Colombia,” Santos wrote on the platform X, formerly Twitter. Former Mexican President Felipe Calderón said: “Chile has lost one of its best presidents.”

The conservative Piñera was president of the South American country from 2010 to 2014 and from 2018 to 2022. He was followed in March 2022 by the left-wing politician and current President Gabriel Boric. Piñera was a democrat from the very beginning, Boric said in a video message.

The former head of state’s term of office saw dramatic events such as the 8.8 magnitude earthquake in 2010, in which more than 520 people lost their lives. In the same year, a mining accident occurred in which 33 miners were buried in the San José mine in the Atacama Desert. The miners had to endure a depth of 700 meters for 69 days until they could be freed from the pit with the help of a capsule – the scenes of the rescue went around the world. Piñera also led the country through the coronavirus pandemic, where he received international recognition for his ambitious vaccination strategy.

Eventful term of office

His term of office also included weeks of protests and violent riots in October and November 2019, during which thousands took to the streets every day. They called for better access to health care and education as well as a move away from the neoliberal economic system. More than 30 people died in clashes with emergency services.

The police were the focus of criticism because of their often brutal actions. The demonstrators also called for a fundamental reform of the 1980 constitution, which dates back to the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. At the end of last year, the second attempt to replace the constitution failed.

According to Forbes magazine, Piñera had a net worth of around $2.7 billion (around €2.5 billion), was a former shareholder in Chile’s national airline and also had a stake in a television station and other companies.