“The NTSB about an hour ago arrived at the scene of the accident for investigation. Last night at 8.45 pm, an Airbus, EC130 helicopter departed Palm Springs, California enroute to Boulder in Nevada. At about 10.8pm, the helicopter impacted Halloran Springs , California. Halloran Springs is about 75 miles northeast Boulder.
“Two crew members and four passengers were aboard and were fatally injured. Before I go further, on behalf of the NTSB, I would like to express our deepest sympathy to the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives in the terrible tragedy.”
French President, Emmanuel Macron; Director General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; and the Nigerian business community were thrown into mourning on Saturday as the Co-founder and Group Chief Executive Officer of Access Holdings Plc, Herbert Wigwe; his wife, Chizoba, and son died in a helicopter crash, which occurred on Friday night in the United States.
However, Wigwe’s Special Assistant, Faleye Olusola, whose name was on the manifest, escaped death miraculously as he did not board the ill-fated flight but opted to travel by road.
Olusola flew with Wigwe, his wife, son and former Group Chairman of Nigerian Exchange Group Plc (NGX Group), Abimbola Ogunbanjo from London, United Kingdom to Palm Springs, California, United States.
But on getting to Palm Springs, Olusola declined to board the ill-fated flight going to Boulder City in Nevada, insisting that he would not travel by helicopter at night due to the weather conditions.
He was said to have opted to travel to Boulder City by road and escaped the air disaster.
Meanwhile, Access Holdings has reacted to the incident in a statement, saying however, that it lacked adequate information about the crash and was collaborating with the US authorities to get the updates.
The statement reads: “We have received numerous inquiries concerning an air crash in the USA.
“Presently, we lack specific information; however, we are actively collaborating with US authorities who will furnish updates.
“Your understanding and support are valued, and we commit to keeping you informed promptly as we receive updates on the situation.”
In their separate condolence messages, French President, Macron; former Vice President Atiku Abubakar; Director General of WTO, Okonjo-Iweala; Edo State Governor, Obaseki; Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Mr. Festus Keyamo; Senator Orji Uzor Kalu; and Presidential Spokesman, Bayo Onanuga expressed sadness over the incident.
In his condolence message on Facebook, President Macron said France has lost a friend with the demise of Wigwe.
The French president noted that Wigwe worked tirelessly to strengthen the relationship between France and Nigeria through his leadership of the French -Nigeria Business Council.
Describing the late banker as the humanistic and talented entrepreneur, Macron expressed his heartfelt condolences to his family and loved ones.
The message read: “France has lost a friend, Herbert Wigwe, President of the French Nigeria Business Council. A humanistic and talented entrepreneur.
He tirelessly worked to strengthen the relationship between our two countries. Our heartfelt thoughts go to his family and loved ones.”
Atiku, in a tweet on his X handle Saturday night, described the incident as unfortunate.
In a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, Okonjo-Iweala wrote that she was “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,” she added.
Sources said the chopper was headed to Las Vegas when it crashed near a border city between Nevada and California on Friday night. The US government confirmed all on board dead.
Saturday night, The New York Times quoted US authorities as saying that a helicopter carrying six people crashed on Friday night near the California-Nevada border, roughly 60 miles south of Las Vegas, and that no survivors had been located as of Saturday morning.
“The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said that the Eurocopter EC130 helicopter crashed at around 10 p.m. local time near Nipton, California, an unincorporated community about 60 miles south of Las Vegas in eastern San Bernardino County,” the report stated.
The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are said to be investigating the cause of the crash.
According to the report, “officials at the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department were made aware of the downed aircraft at 10:12 p.m. local time, a public information officer with the department, Mara Rodriguez, said in a statement, adding that the scene of the crash was determined to be east of Interstate 15, near Halloran Springs Road.
Addressing the media Sunday morning, Board Member of NTSB, Michael Graham disclosed that the Airbus, EC130 helicopter departed Palm Springs, California enroute to Boulder in Nevada at 8.45 pm on Friday.
“At about 10.8pm, the helicopter impacted Halloran Springs, California. Halloran Springs is about 75 miles northeast Boston. Two crew members and four passengers were aboard and were fatally injured,” Graham explained.
“This is the beginning of a long process; we will not jump into any conclusion, and the information that I provide for you tonight is preliminary. A preliminary report will be available in a couple of weeks and however, a full NTSB investigation will be made and investigations will last between 24 months before the final report is published.
“Additional details about the accident include: the crew consisted of a pilot -in- command and a safety pilot; the accident flight was operated by Woebeck Air LSC, as a charter flight. Witness reports of the weather conditions at the time of the flight suggest rain and a wintery mist.
“The helicopter was not equipped with a voice recorder or a data recorder. This helicopter was not required to be equipped with those kinds of devices.
“We are aware of media reports of down power lines near the accident site; we will be looking into this report during our on-the-scene investigative phase of this investigation. Several NTSB investigators will be examining the following areas: airworthiness to include maintenance instructions of the helicopter, operations, meteorology and aero traffic control,” he explained.
He expressed NTSB’s deepest sympathy to the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives in the terrible tragedy.
A consummate banker noted for his fearlessness and ingenuity, Herbert Wigwe was a visionary, and progressive business leader, a philanthropist, and an undisputed leader in the economic and social transformation of Nigeria and Africa.
Acclaimed as one of Africa’s foremost corporate bankers, Herbert was the co-founder and Group Chief Executive Officer of Access Holdings and was credited for nurturing Access Bank into the international powerhouse.
He hailed from Ikwerre Local Government Area (LGA) of Rivers State.
He was married to Chizoba Wigwe (née Nwuba) and had four children: Chizi, Tochi, Hannah and David.
Wigwe’s Premonition of his Demise?
Observers said Wigwe’s latest posts on social media gave the impression he had a premonition of his passing away. For instance, in a January 19, 2024 post on X (formerly Twitter), Wigwe admonished his followers and members of the public to appreciate life, saying ‘Let us number our days.’
He wrote: “Today and always, let us remember that life is a precious gift – a chance to breathe, feel, love, experience and connect.
“Let’s honour this gift by living with purpose, kindness, and gratitude, making every moment count. Let us number our days.”
Reacting to the incident in a post on X, Onanuga described Wigwe’s death as “a terrible blow” for Nigeria and Africa’s banking industry.
“Wigwe had a big vision to make Access Holdings Africa’s biggest, with all the unquenchable thirst for acquisitions,” Onanuga added.
Obaseki: Wigwe’s Death Painful, Heart-wrenching
In his condolence message, Edo State Governor, Obaseki described the news of the crash as devastating.
In a statement released last night, the governor said the news of Wigwe’s death left him extremely shocked and devastated.
“We also unfortunately lost Wigwe’s wife and son as well as the former Group Chairman of Nigeria Stock Exchange, Abimbola Ogunbanjo, in the crash.
“The tragic incident is painful and heart-wrenching and we pray for God’s abiding comfort in this profoundly difficult time.”
Keyamo: Wigwe, Ogunbanjo’s Death, a Tragic Loss
On his part, the Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Keyamo, said the death of Wigwe and Ogunbanjo has created a void not only in the corporate world but also in the hearts of those who knew them.
The minister, in a statement by his Special Assistant on Media and Communications, Tunde Moshood lamented that the world just bid a painful farewell to Wigwe, his beloved wife, child, and business partner, Ogunbanjo.
According to the statement, their journey left behind a void felt not only in the corporate world but also in the hearts of those who knew them.
According to the minister, Wigwe’s untimely demise occurred during a crucial juncture, as he sought to revolutionise Nigeria’s aviation infrastructure.
Orji Kalu Mourns Wigwe, Others
On his part, Senator Kalu, who is the Chairman of Senate Committee on Privatisation, lamented the demise of the renowned banker.
He condoled with the Board, Management, staff and stakeholders of Access Holdings.
The former governor of Abia State, who described the death of the Access Holding helmsman as a great loss to the country, also described the late banker as a thoroughbred professional with a proven track record in the financial sector.
In a condolence message, the business mogul prayed to God to grant the Wigwe family the fortitude to bear the sad losses
Festus Akanbi in Lagos, Sunday Aborisade and Kasim Sumaina in Abuja