By Goodluck B Ikiebe
The CEO of one of Nigeria’s largest banks, along with his wife and son, was among six people killed on Friday night when a helicopter they were riding in crashed near Baker in San Bernardino County.
Herbert Wigwe, CEO of Access Bank, and five others were on board when the helicopter crashed shortly after 10 p.m. His death was confirmed by Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director General of the World Trade Organization, in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Bamofin Abimbola Ogunbanjo, former chair of NGX Group, the Nigerian stock exchange, was also killed.
At a news conference on Saturday night, Michael Graham of the National Transportation Safety Board official confirmed that six people died in the crash.
Graham said he did not have information about the helicopter’s crew, which included a pilot and a safety pilot. The aircraft did not have a cockpit voice recorder or a flight data recorder and was not required to have them, he added.
The death of Wigwe, 57, shocked many in Nigeria and in the banking sector. He was widely seen as an industry leader, having been involved in two of the country’s biggest banks, including Guaranty Trust Bank, where he was previously Executive Director.
The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said the helicopter crashed east of the 15 Freeway near Halloran Springs Road, which is near the California-Nevada border and about an 80-mile drive from Las Vegas.
The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed the helicopter – a Eurocopter EC 130 – had six people aboard. The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating.
The NTSB said investigators arrived on Saturday to begin gathering information.
The helicopter took off from Palm Springs Airport around 8:45 p.m. and was en route to Boulder City, Nevada. Boulder City is about 26 miles southeast of Las Vegas, where the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers are set to play in Super Bowl LVIII on Sunday.
It was a charter flight operated by Orbic Air LLC. Several people traveling on the 15 Freeway witnessed the crash and called 911, Graham said, and he urged them to contact the NTSB with more details, including photos and videos.
Witnesses reported that it was raining with a “wintry mix” at the time of the crash, according to Graham. People also reported a fire on the helicopter plus some downed power lines.
“This is the beginning of a long process. We will not jump to any conclusions,” Graham said. He also “expressed deepest sympathies to the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives in this terrible tragedy.”
Halloran Springs Road crosses over the 15 Freeway in an area known to travelers for an abandoned gas station with a sign declaring “Lo Gas” and “Eat.” It’s located in a remote area of the Mojave Desert, with an elevation of nearly 3,000 feet. Logs from the California Highway Patrol show there was rain and snow in the area at about the time of the crash.
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.