Former Chilean President Sebastian Pinera died from drowning after a helicopter crash in the south of the country, according to autopsy results.
The cause of death was “asphyxiation due to submersion,” Tatiana Esquivel, the prosecutor of the Los Ríos region, where the crash happened, said Wednesday.
Pinera’s funeral will take place on Friday, according to a statement from the Chilean government.
The helicopter carrying the conservative billionaire had four people on board, three of whom survived the crash and are “out of danger,” the Chilean Minister of Interior Carolina Tohá said.
At the time of the crash, there was widespread rainfall in the area, but it is unclear if the weather caused the crash. Pinera’s body has been recovered by the Chilean navy.
Pinera, who was 74 years old, was Chile’s president from 2010 to 2014 and again from 2018 to 2022.
A state funeral will be held for the late leader, and Chilean President Gabriel Boric has declared three days of national mourning – though it is unclear when it will start.
The country was already in a state of national mourning due to ongoing forest fires, believed to be the worst on record, that have killed more than 120 people.
Chile’s government “expresses its shock due to this tragedy, extends its hug in solidarity to the former president’s family, to those close to him, but also to all Chileans,” Tohá’s statement said.
Pinera was educated in Chile and at Harvard University in the United States. According to Forbes, the businessman-turned-politician was worth an estimated $2.7 billion. He founded the credit card company Banco in the 1970s and, during his first stint as president, honored a promise to divest his assets, the magazine reported.
Pinera’s first term began in 2010 when he succeeded Michelle Bachelet, a popular president who steered the country through the global economic downturn.
His second term was punctuated by massive protests and riots, which shook the country in October 2019 as protesters demanded better pensions, better education, and the end to an economic system that they said favored the elite.
The unrest led then-outgoing President Pinera to agree to a popular vote about the need to change the constitution inherited from the dictatorship.
He also presided over the country’s Covid-19 pandemic response, where the Andean nation of 19 million saw one of the highest vaccination rates in the world.
“He genuinely sought what he thought was best for the country,” Boric said Tuesday. “For example, when he took on the reconstruction of the country after the February 27, 2010, earthquake, or when he took risks … to rescue the 33 miners from the San Jose mine, and more recently, in managing the pandemic in times of global uncertainty.”
Regional leaders mourned Pinera’s passing. “I met President Pinera several years ago. He always had a positive attitude towards Uruguay and me personally. As an example… his support with the logistics offered for the arrival of vaccines during the pandemic,” Uruguay’s President Luis Lacalle Pou wrote on X.
Argentinian President Javier Milei also sent his condolences in a post on X. “On behalf of the state of Argentina, we send our condolences to the family, friends, and people of Chile,” he wrote.
This is a developing story and will be updated.
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