Former Chilean president Sebastián Piñera died in a helicopter crash on Tuesday evening as he was traveling to southern Chile with three members of his family, who survived.
Piñera, 74, was the first and so far only center-right president of Chile since its return to democracy at the end of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, having served two presidential terms from 2010 to 2014 and 2018 to 2022.
The former Chilean president was reportedly piloting the crashed helicopter, having taken off from the home of Chilean businessman José Cox on Tuesday afternoon after sharing a meal. Piñera was accompanied by his sister Magdalena, his son-in-law Ignacio Guerrero, and Guerrero’s son.
Initial reports indicate that the helicopter took off in rainy and foggy weather conditions, which caused it to crash in a lake near the southern town of Lago Ranco minutes later. Piñera was reportedly unable to unbuckle his seatbelt and sank with the helicopter. The three survivors were able to swim to the shore, where they were rescued and aided by local security and members of the Emergency Medical Attention Service (SAMU). Piñera’s body was recovered from the depths of the lake and transported in a Chilean Navy boat.
Local media reported on Wednesday morning that according to Magdalena Piñera, who survived the crash, the former president’s last words were, “you jump first, because if I jump with you, the helicopter will fall on all of us,” as he maneuvered the helicopter in an attempt to save their lives.
Heroico hasta el final.@KarlaEnAccion:”ahora nos enteramos de la declaraciones de su hermana del presidente Piñera… que las últimas palabras del Presidente fueron.. salten ustedes primero porque si yo salto con ustedes el helicóptero les va a caer encima”. pic.twitter.com/OSSgnsjf0g
— Pablo Lira R. (@pablolirar) February 7, 2024
Magdalena Piñera described her brother as a “great man, a very generous and very brave man.”
🔴 “Fue un gran hombre” fueron las primeras palabras de Magdalena Piñera, hermana del fallecido expresidente Sebastián Piñera, que se encontraba con él en el helicóptero cuando se produjo el accidente, en el que viajaban también el empresario Ignacio Guerrero y su hijo Bautista. pic.twitter.com/Md0dkhHAFm
— Meganoticias (@meganoticiascl) February 7, 2024
Former president Piñera was at the time on vacation in Bahía Coique with some of his four sons and nine grandchildren. Piñera frequently used to pilot his personal helicopter.
Chilean President Gabriel Boric addressed the nation on Tuesday to announce Piñera’s death, expressed his condolences to Piñera’s family, and decreed a three-day mourning period in honor of the deceased former president.
“I have instructed that former President Sebastián Piñera be given the honors of a state funeral and decreed three days of national mourning to honor the memory of the twice elected President of Chile,” Boric announced.
Boric continued by expressing a few words on his predecessor:
President Piñera contributed, from his vision, to build great agreements for the good of the country. He was a democrat from the first hour and genuinely sought what he believed to be the best for the country as, for example, when he took on the reconstruction of the country after the earthquake of February 27, 2010 or when he took the risk, with great decision and audacity, to rescue the 33 miners of the San José mine or also, more recently, in the management of the pandemic in times of global uncertainty.
The Chilean president said that he had conversed with former Chilean presidents Eduardo Frei, Ricardo Lagos, and Michelle Bachelet, all of whom “will do their best” to participate in the state funeral.
“‘Chile is all of us and we must dream it, draw it and build it among all of us’ said Sebastián Piñera upon assuming his second presidential term on March 11, 2018,” Boric concluded.
Sebastián Piñera was a businessman, commercial engineer, and a graduate of Harvard University. He also served as a professor of economics at several Chilean universities before serving as a senator between 1990-1998.
Piñera’s body will be transported to the Hall of Honor of the former National Congress Building, where Piñera’s family requested time alone to hold a private ceremony on Wednesday morning.
The doors of the hall will be opened to the public on Wednesday afternoon to begin the wake, which will last until Thursday.
On Friday, the coffin will be taken in a procession to the Chilean Presidential Palace, where it will be honored by President Gabriel Boric, and then taken to the Cathedral of Santiago, where a funeral mass will be celebrated by the Archbishop of Santiago, Fernando Chomalí. Piñera’s remains will then be taken to the Parque del Recuerdo cemetery in Huechuraba for its funeral and burial.
Christian K. Caruzo is a Venezuelan writer and documents life under socialism. You can follow him on Twitter here.