Nigerian bank CEO and family among 6 people killed in California helicopter crash

The CEO of a major Nigerian bank, along with his wife and son, were among six people killed in a helicopter crash in the Mojave Desert near the California-Nevada border late Friday night.

Access Bank chief executive Herbert Wigwe died in the crash, the bank confirmed in a statement on X. He was 57.

Wigwe’s wife, Doreen, 56, and son, Herbert, 29, and the former group chairman of the Nigeria Stock Exchange, Abimbola Ogunbanjo, 61, were also killed in the crash, World Trade Organization Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said in a post on X.

The San Bernardino County coroner confirmed those deaths on Tuesday and also released the names of the helicopter’s pilots who died in the crash: Blake R. Hansen, 22, of Moorpark, California, and Benjamin D. Pettingill, 25, of Camarillo, California.

The chartered Airbus EC130 helicopter was flying from Palm Springs, California, to Boulder City, Nevada, just outside of Las Vegas, according to National Transportation Safety Board member Michael Graham.

The aircraft, which was operated by California-based charter company Orbic Air, took off around 8:45 p.m. and crashed just after 10 p.m. near Interstate 15 in Halloran Springs, California, Graham said.

The helicopter caught fire upon impact, Graham added, citing witness reports. Witnesses also reported rain and a wintry mix when the crash happened, he said.

The NTSB is investigating the cause of the crash and was at the scene in Halloran Springs, California, Saturday night collecting evidence, Graham said at a news conference.

At a Sunday NTSB news conference, Graham confirmed there was precipitation at the time of the crash, noting the helicopter descended from an altitude of approximately 1,000 to 1,500 feet, sped up, and “impacted the terrain in a nose low and right bank angle.”

The debris field was 100 yards in length, and all major components of the aircraft were accounted for and identified at the crash site, Graham said. The wreckage will be moved to a “secure location” Tuesday, he added.

Condolences have been pouring in for the Wigwe family and Ogunbanjo.

Nigeria’s President Bola Ahmed Tinubu called the deaths “an overwhelming tragedy that is shocking beyond comprehension,” according to a statement released by his office.

The governor of Nigeria’s Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, said he is “extremely shocked and devastated” and said the deaths are an “irreparable loss.”

“Wigwe was a colossus in Nigeria’s financial sector, leading Access Bank to become an international brand that placed Nigeria on the global map of first-class financial services,” Obaseki said in a post on X.

Wigwe became the group managing director and chief executive of Access Bank in 2014, according to the company’s website.

The bank called Wigwe a “visionary leader” with a legacy of “excellence and compassion.”

“Herbert’s visionary leadership and unwavering commitment to social impact initiatives have left an indelible mark on Access Holdings and the communities we serve. His legacy will never be forgotten,” the bank said in a statement on X.

Investigators returned to the crash scene Sunday to continue documenting the site, including using a drone to create an aerial map of the wreckage. Graham requested that anyone who witnessed the crash contact the NTSB and provide any available photos or video of the incident.

A preliminary investigation report will be released in the coming weeks, but the full inquiry could take as long as two years before a final report is published, according to Graham.

This story has been updated.

CNN’s Stephanie Busari contributed to this report.

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