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25 February 2024

President's helicopter runs out of gas

Chilean president Sebastian Pinera is seen on board his helicopter in Santiago 2006. Pinera made an emergency landing on a highway in the country's south over the weekend after running out of gas, media reports said. (AFP)


Chile's billionaire president has a reputation for taking risks, insisting on flying his own helicopter against the advice of his security detail. But his unplanned landing on a remote highway this weekend had various members of congress saying "enough" on Monday.

Sebastian Pinera had tried to minimize Saturday's incident, denying that it was an emergency landing and saying he planned all along to refuel near Cobquecura, a small town near the epicenter of last year's devastating earthquake.

"Unfortunately, cars and helicopters need gas," he said Sunday, laughing it off.

But video of the incident shot by a local resident suggests the pit stop was hardly planned. The footage shows Pinera asking locals where they were and explaining that he had to land on the highway because the aircraft was running out of gas.

He then makes a call for help describing the spot - on a remote stretch of road about 20 miles (30 kilometers) outside Cobquecura - and a short while later, a police helicopter arrives with more fuel.

"We decided to stop because we were really short" of fuel, Pinera can be heard telling officers in the video, broadcast Sunday night by the Mega channel.

Pinera's insistence on flying helicopters as president was criticized in Congress on Monday by allies as well as opponents.

Among the more outspoken was Gabriel Ascencio of the opposition Christian Democrats, who called for an investigation of whether Pinera broke any laws with the landing on a public highway, as well as an accounting of how much the rescue cost taxpayers.

"What happened Saturday is no small thing," Ascencio told reporters. "It cannot be possible that Mr. Pinera, even though he is president of the republic, can land wherever in the country, putting at risk the safety of the people."

"If it was an emergency for lack of fuel, it's his responsibility for not having taken the necessary precautions before the flight," Ascencio added. "And trying to deny the facts as they happened tells us that something smells bad in this deal."