Sebastián Piñera, a former president of Chile who helped strengthen the nation’s young democracy after becoming its first conservative leader since a military dictatorship, died in a helicopter crash in Chile on Tuesday, the government said. He was 74.
The helicopter, carrying four people, crashed into Lake Ranco in the Los Ríos region in southern Chile on Tuesday, Carolina Tohá, Chile’s interior minister, said in a televised address. Three people survived and swam to shore, Ms. Toha said, but Mr. Piñera died and the Chilean Navy had recovered his body. It is unclear who was piloting the aircraft, but Mr. Piñera was known to fly his own helicopter.
Mr. Piñera was a billionaire businessman and investor who served two terms as Chile’s president, from 2010 to 2014 and again from 2018 to 2022.
A conservative, Mr. Piñera ushered in pro-business policies that helped boost growth and make the nation of 19 million, in his words, “a true oasis” in Latin America.
But he also faced enormous protests from citizens who said his government disregarded the poor — Chile is one of the world’s most economically unequal nations — and he left office both times with low approval ratings.
Perhaps his most significant legacy was helping Chile’s conservative movement win power for the first time since the end of Chile’s brutal military dictatorship under Gen. Augusto Pinochet in 1990.
After 20 years of leftist rule following the dictatorship, his first election in 2010 showed that Chile’s democracy was strong and healthy, said Robert Funk, a political science professor at the University of Chile.
“He did that basically on his own,” Mr. Funk said. “He pushed the parties on the right to participate and accept the rules of the game at a time when they were not so convinced.”
Mr. Piñera made his fortune as a bank executive and an investor in airlines, television and soccer clubs; he also successfully introduced credit cards to Chile during the dictatorship.
This is a developing story.
John Bartlett contributed reporting from Valdivia, Chile.