Chile's billionaire ex-president, Sebastian Pinera, who was friends with Bill and Hillary Clinton, died on Tuesday when the helicopter he was piloting crashed in adverse weather conditions, his office said in a statement. The 74-year-old billionaire, who is worth an estimated $2.7 billion, was flying with three others in the helicopter, all of whom survived.
It remains unclear whether his wife of 50 years, Cecilia Morel, was among the survivors. The helicopter crashed into Lago Ranco Lake in the southern part of the country around 3:30 pm shortly after taking off. Pinera's body was trapped in the wreckage, which was later recovered by rescue services, Interior Minister Carolina Toha said.
"It is with deep regret that we announce the death of the former president of the Republic of Chile," the statement from his office read. Pinera and his family often spent their summers in the scenic lakes and mountains region, situated 600 miles south of the capital Santiago.
Just before Christmas, Pinera joined Bill and Hillary Clinton, along with the former president of Mexico, Enrique Pena Nieto, in the Dominican Republic.
A period of three days of national mourning has been announced for the Harvard-educated conservative, who served as president from 2010 to 2014 and then again from 2018 to 2022.
Pinera oversaw notable triumphs, including the successful rescue of 33 miners trapped in the Chilean desert in 2010 after being underground for 69 days—a remarkable feat later adapted into a film featuring Antonio Banderas and Juliette Binoche.
In addition to overseeing periods of rapid economic growth that benefited large segments of society, Pinera faced challenges as president, with recurring accusations of being disconnected from the hardships faced by ordinary Chileans.
Both his presidential terms were marked by frequent protests.
In his first term, students demanded education reform. In his second term, more extensive and sometimes violent protests erupted across the country, focusing on issues of inequality.
These protests ultimately led to the government committing to the drafting of a new constitution.
Despite plaudits for his administration's economic achievements, a significant portion of the Chilean population believed that Pinera did not take sufficient action to address deep-seated inequality and shortcomings in the education system.
In a League of His Own
After leaving the presidency, Pinera continued to stay involved in politics, voicing his opinions on matters such as the unsuccessful attempt to draft a new constitution. He also supported conservative politicians in the region, including Argentine President Javier Milei.
The news of his death elicited a widespread expression of sorrow from across the world.
"I will always value ex-President Piñera's commitment to our country and its democracy, as well as his tireless work and service for the nation," former president and political opponent Michelle Bachelet said in a statement.
Regional leaders including Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Argentina's Javier Milei sent their condolences.
"On behalf of the state of Argentina, we send our condolences to the family, friends, and people of Chile," Milei wrote.
Former Argentine President Mauricio Macri also conveyed his grief upon learning about the passing of Sebastian Pinera.
"He was a good person, committed like no one else to Chile and to the values of freedom and democracy in Latin America," he said.