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Nigerian bank CEO, 5 others killed in California helicopter crash

Updated February 10, 2024 - 7:42 pm

Six people were killed after a chartered helicopter bound for Boulder City crashed late Friday in the California desert near the Nevada border, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

The victims included two crew members and four passengers, NTSB official Michael Graham said Saturday night.

Graham said the victims would be named by the local coroner’s office. But news reports identified four of the them as Herbert Wigwe, his wife and his son, and Bamofin Abimbola Ogunbanjo, former chair of NGX Group, the Nigerian stock exchange.

Wigwe is the CEO of one of Nigeria’s largest financial institutions, Access Bank.

Their deaths were confirmed by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former Nigerian finance minister who is now the director general of the World Trade Organization.

“Our team is (methodical) and systematically reviews all evidence, and considers all potential factors to determine a probable cause,” Graham said. “This is the beginning of a long process, we will not jump into any conclusions, and the information that I provide for you tonight is preliminary.”

Graham said the rented Airbus EC130 aircraft took off from Palm Springs, California, at 8:45 p.m. Friday.

At 10:08 p.m., witnesses began reporting a fiery crash near Halloran Springs, which is located about 80 miles south of Las Vegas, he said.

Graham noted that witnesses also reported “rain with some wintery mix” at the time of impact, something meteorology experts had yet to confirm as of Saturday night.

The flight was operated by California-based Orbic Air LLC, Graham said.

“On behalf of the NTSB, I’d like to express our deepest sympathies to the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives in this terrible tragedy,” Graham said.

Graham said the crew killed consisted of a pilot in command and a safety pilot.

The aircraft was not equipped with a cockpit voice recorder or a flight data recorder, something that wasn’t mandated, Graham said.

NTSB investigators began arriving at the crash site early Saturday evening and were collecting “perishable evidence,” Graham said.

An NTSB representative on scene was working to provide updates and support to the families of the victims.

Investigators will probe the “airworthiness to include maintenance and structures of the helicopter, operations, meteorology and air traffic control,’ Graham said.

On Sunday, the NTSB will begin documenting the site, including an aerial mapping and measurements, said Graham, adding that they would work with the charter company to obtain records related to the flight crew and maintenance.

The investigation will be conducted by the NTSB and the Federal Aviation Agency with the help of the charter company and France-based Airbus, which manufactured the helicopter and its engines, Graham said.

France’s aviation crash investigation agency will also be folded into the probe, he added.

A preliminary report was expected in the coming weeks, and the entire investigation could take up to two years, Graham said.

Witnesses were asked to contact witness@ntsb.gov.

The crash comes just three days after a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter crashed in the mountains outside San Diego on Tuesday during historic downpours. Five Marines were killed.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Ricardo Torres-Cortez at rtorres@reviewjournal.com.

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