Chopper piloted by Chilean President makes emergency landing

Sebastian Pinera, however, said the helicopter was stopped to take on fuel.

Last Updated: Jan 24, 2011, 13:40 PM IST

Santiago: The helicopter being piloted by President Sebastian Pinera to his vacation home in southern Chile had to make an emergency landing because of a malfunction, Radio Bio Bio reported on Sunday.

However, the President soon thereafter denied the report.

"The helicopter transporting President Pinera had to make a forced landing on its journey near Curanipe after suffering a malfunction due to lack of fuel," the radio station said.

The incident was also reported by the online daily El Mostrador.

The media reports indicate that the malfunction occurred on Saturday afternoon when the President was flying a helicopter he owns, a Robinson R44, and that after making the emergency landing he had to be assisted by a police aircraft.

The incident occurred about 20 km from Curanipe, or 400 km south of Santiago, Radio Bio Bio said.

The Chilean President, however, denied the reports, telling reporters: "I was piloting a Robinson R44 helicopter along the coast. We decided to stop to take on fuel at a town near Cobquecura..."

He said that his stop there was planned and was not an emergency situation at all, and he took advantage of the occasion to thank the residents of the town, who he said had been "very friendly" to him and the people with him.

He said that three stops had been planned for the trip from Vina del Mar to Lago Ranco, adding that one of those stops was to have been to take on fuel and the other two were scheduled for the Bio Bio region, where he was going to have lunch at the home of a friend, and for the La Araucania region, where he visited his home in Caburga.

Aeronautic experts consulted by EFE said that the helicopter owned by the Chilean leader is capable of attaining a speed of 300 km per hour, can stay aloft for four hours and has a maximum range of 1,000 km.

Socialist Congressman Sergio Aguilo on November 04 called Pinera irresponsible for piloting a Bell-412 air force helicopter after an official event in the Bio Bio region.

In the opinion of the Socialist lawmaker, "the President committed an illegal act placing at risk the people travelling inside the craft and, moreover, the citizens who could have been affected by a possible crash of the helicopter".

IANS