Monday, February 26, 2024

LATIN AMERICA | 08-02-2024 00:48

Details of Sebastián Piñera’s death emerge ahead of state funeral

Three days of mourning and state funeral for conservative billionaire, who died Tuesday in a tragic helicopter crash; Funeral set for Friday.

Chile is mourning the death of its two-time former president Sebastián Piñera, who died in a tragic helicopter accident last Tuesday.

Three days of mourning and a state funeral remembered the conservative billionaire, who died a day earlier when the chopper he was piloting crashed into a lake.

Details of the accident were scarce in the initial aftermath of the crash at Lago Ranco in southern Chile, but a fuller picture emerged on Wednesday.

Piñera, 74, reportedly ordered the other three passengers in the helicopter to jump clear as the helicopter he was piloting crashed into a lake.  

In this way, his sister Magdalena and two other friends were able to save themselves. His sibling told reporters that her brother’s final words were: “You guys jump first.”

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," confirmed regional prosecutor Tatiana Esquivel.

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 aircraft crashed shortly after take-off and sank 40 metres. 

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

Piñera's remains left 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.

In Santiago, the coffin was 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 was transferred to the Metropolitan Cathedral for a mass with "those foreign leaders or presidents who wish to participate in the funeral," Van Klaveren added.



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