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LATIN AMERICA | 07-02-2024 13:24

Chile mourns former president Sebastián Piñera as remains flown to lie in state

Three days of mourning and ceremonies got underway Wednesday for Chile's ex-president Sebastián Piñera, who died a day earlier in a helicopter crash; Funeral set for Friday.

Three days of mourning and funeral ceremonies got underway Wednesday for Chile's ex-president Sebastián Piñera, who died a day earlier when the helicopter he was piloting crashed into a lake.

The 74-year-old billionaire, who returned the right to power after casting off the baggage of former dictator Augusto Pinochet, served two non-consecutive terms in office, leaving his final mandate in 2022.

Piñera's remains will leave the city of Valdivia in southern Chile on an air force plane, accompanied by his widow, children, grandchildren, and one of his sisters, according to an AFP team at the airport.

The family had been enjoying their summer holidays in Lago Ranco, an immense lake some 920 kilometres (570 miles) south of Santiago, when the accident occurred on Tuesday.

An autopsy established the cause of Piñera's death as "asphyxiation due to submersion," said regional prosecutor Tatiana Esquivel.

In Santiago, the coffin will be received by Piñera's leftist successor, President Gabriel Boric. The procession will then leave for Congress where Piñera will lie in state until the main funeral on Friday.

"Probably this afternoon, at a time that will be announced in due course, the doors of Congress will open so that those who wish to pay tribute to the president can do so," Foreign Minister Alberto Van Klaveren said at a press conference.

On Friday, Piñera's body will be transferred to the Metropolitan Cathedral for a mass with "those foreign leaders or presidents who wish to participate in the funeral," Van Klaveren added.

Piñera was an avid helicopter pilot, and had taken off after lunch with his friends, accompanied by his sister and two other passengers on a rainy day, with wind and considerable cloud cover, the prosecutor's office said.

The plane crashed shortly after takeoff.

A former minister in Piñera's government, and neighbour on Lago Ranco, Gerardo Varela, said that the ex-president may have felt ill as he was the only passenger unable to loosen his seatbelt and thus "sank with the helicopter."

The other three passengers survived virtually unharmed.

 

– TIMES/AFP

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