Former Chilean President Sebastián Piñera dies in helicopter accident, evangelicals pay tribute

By Lizzie Sotola |
Former President of Chile Sebastian Piñera
Former President of Chile Sebastian Piñera participates in an act of the State Defense Council on March 6, 2020 in Santiago, Chile. | Marcelo Hernandez/Getty Images

Former president of Chile Sebastián Piñera died in a helicopter crash today, Tuesday, February 6. The incident took place in the rural area of the Los Ríos Region, specifically in the town of Lago Ranco, located in the southern part of the country.

Piñera was traveling with four other people. Three of them managed to escape to safety but unfortunately, the former president and the pilot of the aircraft died in the accident. According to Radio Bio-Bio, it appears that the former president was unable to unbuckle his seat belt and drowned.

Miguel Juan Sebastián Piñera Echenique was born on December 1, 1949, in Santiago, the capital city of Chile. He was a commercial engineer by profession and had a degree in economics from the Catholic University of Chile. Additionally, he completed a master's and a PhD in Economics at Harvard University where he also worked as a professor. 

Piñera served as the President of Chile twice, from 2010-2014 and from 2018-2022, having been elected after several attempts. In 2010, he defeated former President Eduardo Frei. Piñera's second administration began in March 2018 after winning the run-off of the 2017 presidential election. His presidential term ended on March 11, 2022, when he handed over the presidential sash to the current President, Gabriel Boric, at the National Congress. Piñera was 74 years old and is survived by his four children and his wife Cecilia Borel.

Bishop Emiliano Soto, president of the National Evangelical Union of Chile, told Christian Daily International that Piñera "will be remembered as a person who defended democracy and a builder of unity agreements. He faced significant challenges such as the reconstruction of the country after the earthquake and tsunami in 2010. He faced several social crises as well as the pandemic, so he was a very capable person to politically lead a nation like Chile."

Piñera was recognized for his commitment to upholding religious freedom. He participated every year in a traditional thanksgiving service organized by the Evangelical Cathedral of Chile during the country's independence celebrations in September. Additionally, his administration celebrated the National Day of Evangelical and Protestant Churches at the Presidential Palace.

During his second administration, some pastors held public offices such as pastor Patricio Moya who served as executive secretary of the National Council of Evangelical Churches. Another clergy who was appointed by Piñera was Methodist bishop Eduardo Durán Castro, who served many years as senior leader of the Evangelical Cathedral of Chile. Castro, however, was later charged with money laundering in 2018 and finally dismissed in April 2019 for embezzlement, money laundering, and fraud.

In comments to Christian Daily International, Pastor Hernan Perez, director of Bethesda Radio in the city of Santiago, said that "Santiago Piñera was a president who had a very good relationship with evangelicals, especially during his first administration. He had a relationship with the evangelicals not only during the annual Thanksgiving Service but he maintained an openness and continuously worked with different evangelical entities."

Perez added that the relationship with evangelicals during Piñera's second term was challenged because "he was pressured by different anti-Christian and anti-values groups" when a series of popular street demonstrations demanding, among other things, an agenda contrary to biblical principles caused him to lose credibility among the evangelical people.

Bishop Soto said that Piñera "was a person who in his position as President maintained a very good relationship with all religious entities, respectful of diversity and always cordial with the evangelical world."

The current evangelical chaplain at the Presidential Palace and bishop of the Lutheran Church in Chile, Izani Bruch, said that "the death due to the tragic accident of former President Sebastián [Piñera] has impacted the country and the different political sectors. Undoubtedly, his death also impacts the evangelical world. As a chaplain and bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, I express my sincere condolences and as an evangelical christian I pray for his family so that they may have comfort and peace in the face of the loss they are experiencing".

She also celebrated that Piñera maintained a relationship with the evangelicals "always of respect and appreciation of religious diversity in the country. Obviously, like any government, there were also differences. And perhaps even disappointment from certain sectors of the evangelical world, especially when equal marriage became law in his government. In this sense, I believe he was a President who was clear about, and had the conviction of, the separation of Church and state". Bruch also focused on the republican political commitment of the former president and recalled that "he was twice democratically elected president of Chile".

The current Chilean president, Gabriel Boric, announced that former president Piñera will receive all due state honors in the coming days. Boric also declared three days of national mourning.