Top Nigerian banker among 6 dead in California helicopter crash

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The crash of a privately chartered helicopter Friday evening in California’s Mojave Desert killed all six people aboard, including one of Nigeria’s top bank chiefs, officials said.

The aircraft was flying in wintry conditions from Palm Springs, Calif., to Boulder City, Nev., when it crashed shortly after 10 p.m., killing both pilots and all four passengers, transportation safety officials said Saturday.

In a statement shared on social media early Sunday, a Nigerian presidential spokesman identified Herbert Wigwe, chief executive of Access Bank, as a crash victim — along with his wife, son and a prominent Nigerian lawyer. Bayo Onanuga described Wigwe’s death as a “terrible blow” to both Nigeria and Africa’s banking industry, paying tribute to his “big vision to make Access Holdings Africa’s biggest.”

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, director of the World Trade Organization, joined other prominent Nigerians in paying tribute to Wigwe. In a social media post, she described the deaths as a “terrible loss.”

Michael Graham of the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the crash, said in a news conference that “two crew members and four passengers were onboard and were fatally injured.” The crash site was east of the town of Baker, about a quarter-mile east of Interstate 15 near Halloran Springs Road, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.

It was too early to determine the cause of Friday’s crash, Graham added. He described the weather at the time, as reported by witnesses, to be “rain and a wintry mix.” Witnesses reported seeing the helicopter ablaze when it crashed into the ground, he added.

The Airbus EC130 helicopter, operated by Orbic Air and chartered by the passengers, was not required to have a cockpit voice recorder or a flight data recorder, Graham said, urging witnesses to share their accounts and any recordings with investigators. “This is the beginning of a long process; we will not jump to any conclusions,” he said.

The crash happened less than a week after five Marines were killed in a helicopter crash in a California storm outside San Diego.

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