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Chilean President Lands Chopper on Busy Highway

Jan 25, 2011 – 10:30 AM
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Lauren Frayer

Lauren Frayer Contributor

Chile's billionaire president has cultivated a can-do image, piloting his own private helicopter and swooping in to hug 33 miners as the world rejoiced in their dramatic rescue last year.

Sebastian Pinera's latest feat involved landing his chopper in the middle of a busy highway south of Santiago and shrugging off the emergency landing with characteristic swagger.

"Came up short on fuel," he told a shocked police officer, with a smile.

But not everyone was amused. Pinera's political foes are calling for an investigation into his impromptu landing Saturday. One opposition lawmaker, Camilo Escalona, told Agence France-Presse that the Chilean president should concentrate on governing rather than "playing at being a helicopter pilot."

Chile's President Lands Chopper on Busy Highway
Eitan Abramovich, AFP / Getty Images
Chilean President Sebastian Pinera landed his private helicopter in the middle of a busy highway south of Santiago on Saturday, after running short of fuel.
Amateur video taken at the scene shows looks of surprise on the faces of villagers and policemen alike in Cobquecura, 168 miles south of Santiago, when their president appeared out of the sky and touched down on a main road. Pinera asked bewildered locals where he was and then explained his predicament, requesting a fuel delivery from police. After refueling, he whizzed back up into the sky, heading for his vacation home at Lago Ranco, 435 miles south of the capital.

Pinera is a former business tycoon who got his pilot's license five years ago. After winning the presidency last year, he has insisted on putting in flight hours to keep his license current. But some lawmakers have accused him of devoting too much attention to his hobby, at the expense of his job.

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Asked about the stunt a day later, Pinera laughed it off. "Unfortunately, cars and helicopters need gas," he joked, according to the BBC. The video of his landing was broadcast on a local Chilean TV station, drawing attention -- and some outrage.

"What happened Saturday is not insignificant. It is not possible that Mr. Pinera, although he is the president of the republic, can land anywhere in the country, putting the safety of the people at risk," another opposition lawmaker, Gabriel Ascencio of the Christian Democrats, told CNN.

"If he had an emergency for lack of fuel, it is his responsibility for not taking the necessary precautions before taking off," he said. "Something smells bad in this case."

Ascencio said he'll ask Chile's comptroller, the director general of civil aviation and the police to investigate any abuse of services.
Filed under: World, Weird News
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