Nigerian Banking Executive Dies In California Helicopter Crash

Nigerian Banking Executive Dies In California Helicopter Crash

Witnesses reported a “wintry mix” of rain, as well as a fire on the helicopter along with downed power lines. 

Herbert Wigwe, the CEO of Access Bank, one of the largest and most ambitious banks in Nigeria, died in a helicopter crash in the Mojave Desert in Southern California on Feb. 9 along with his wife, his son, and three others. Bamofin Abimbola Ogunbanjo, the former chair of NGX Group, the Nigerian stock exchange, also perished in the crash. According to The Huffington Post, the death of Wigwe sent shock waves across Nigeria.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former Nigerian finance minister and current director-general of the World Trade Organization, wrote on Twitter/X, “Terribly saddened by the news of the terrible loss of Herbert Wigwe … his wife and son as well as Bimbo Ogunbanjo in a helicopter crash. May the souls of the departed rest in perfect peace.”

The 57-year-old Wigwe had been a leader in Nigeria’s financial industry, creating a pathway for Access Bank to grow beyond Nigeria and operate in several African countries. Wigwe also found the time to establish a university in the Niger Delta, where he hails from. The university is scheduled to open this September. Wigwe was inspired to open the university as a way to give back, saying in 2023 that it was “an opportunity for me to give back to society.”

Festus Keyamo, Nigeria’s minister of aviation and aerospace development expressed his sorrow on Twitter/X, writing, “This is surreal and I am lost for words.” Keyamo continued, “May Almighty God comfort his aged parents and sibling … his immediate family members, his staff, friends across Nigeria and dependents.”

Nigerian presidential spokesman Bayo Onanuga wrote on Twitter/X that the death of Wigwe was “a terrible blow” for the banking industries of Nigeria and Africa as a whole, before saying “Wigwe had a big vision to make Access Holdings (the parent company) Africa’s biggest, with all the unquenchable thirst for acquisitions.”

Michael Graham from the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the incident, said that the crash occurred south of I-15, 75 miles northeast of Barstow, CA. Graham told the Huffington Post that he did not have any information about the crew, but the aircraft was not equipped with a voice recorder in the cockpit, or a flight data recorder, nor was the aircraft required to have them. 

The Airbus EC-130 left the Palm Springs airport on Feb. 9 at around 8:45 p.m., headed for Boulder City, NV, which is about 26 miles from Las Vegas, where Super Bowl LVIII was played. The charter flight was operated by Orbic Air LLC, and according to Graham, several people called 911 after witnessing the crash. Graham urged those people to call the NTSB with more information, including photos or videos they may have taken. Witnesses also reported a “wintry mix” of rain, as well as a fire on the helicopter along with downed power lines. 

According to Graham, the NTSB is investigating the crash. “This is the beginning of a long process. We will not jump to any conclusions,” Graham said during a news conference. Graham also gave his sympathy to the families and loved ones, saying that the organization “expressed our deepest sympathies to the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives in this terrible tragedy.”

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