Former president dies in helicopter crash

Chile’s two-time former president Sebastián Piñera has died in a helicopter crash at the age of 74.

According to preliminary reports, Piñera was piloting a helicopter with three passengers onboard over Lago Ranco, a lake in southern Chile where he had a home, but no further information regarding the incident was immediately given.

“We want to extend an embrace to the family of the ex-president, to all those close to him, but also to Chileans, because Sebastián Piñera served twice as Chile’s democratic president,” said Carolina Tohá, Chile’s interior minister, confirming Piñera’s death at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.

Piñera’s body has been recovered. The three passengers were able to swim ashore.

Piñera’s office issued a statement thanking the public for the “massive show of affection and concern”.

Tohá said that Piñera will be afforded “all of the honours and republican recognition he deserves”.

He will be given a state funeral and national mourning has been declared. A wake will be held on Thursday at the former congress building in Chile’s capital, Santiago.

The Harvard-educated economist and billionaire businessman served two terms as a centre-right president from 2010 to 2014, and from 2018 to 2022.

Having amassed a fortune bringing credit card technology to Chile in the 1980s, he acquired sizeable stakes in an airline, a television station, and one of the country’s biggest football teams.

As a senator, Piñera voted against the continuation of Gen Augusto Pinochet’s brutal dictatorship in the pivotal 1988 plebiscite which removed the dictator from power, and he positioned himself as a leading figure in the movement to reform the right of Chilean politics.

In 1990, the year democracy returned, Piñera was elected to represent a Santiago district in Chile’s senate. He served until 1998.

He ran unsuccessfully for the presidency in 2005, losing to the centre-left Michelle Bachelet, Chile’s first female president, but in 2009 he narrowly won the presidency.

Piñera embarked on two terms marked by economic growth, natural disasters and social crises.

During his first (2010-2014), he acquired a reputation as a hands-on leader with a competitive streak.

Having run as a candidate who could refresh Chile’s right wing – tainted by its heavy links to Pinochet – he oversaw rapid economic growth and slashed unemployment.

He was noted for his response to the 2010 earthquake which killed 525 people, and basked in the global media focus over the rescue of 33 miners who were trapped in the Atacama desertthe same year.

However, Piñera’s second presidency, from 2018 to 2022, was marked by widespread protests against inequality in October 2019 that led to accusations of human rights violations amid brutal repression of demonstrators.

In November that year, his government reluctantly promised to draft a new constitution to quell the unrest.

When the coronavirus pandemic struck in early 2020, his government imposed draconian restrictions on movement before betting early on Chinese SinoVac vaccines to secure supplies.

Chile ended up among the five countries with the top vaccination rates worldwide, gaining plaudits for its jab rollout.

Pinera was married to Cecilia Morel and the couple had four children.