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Nigerian bank CEO, family among the 6 killed in California helicopter crash

The Eurocopter EC130 helicopter crashed Friday night near Halloran Springs, California, about 80 miles south of Las Vegas.
San Bernardino County helicopter crash.
San Bernardino County helicopter crash.iLANDNEWS

The CEO of one of Nigeria's largest banks was among the six people killed when the helicopter they were on crashed Friday night in California, a World Trade Organization official said.

The chartered helicopter departed Palm Springs at 8:45 p.m. en route to Boulder City, Nevada, but "impacted the ground" near Halloran Springs, California, at 10:08 p.m., National Transportation Safety Board member Michael Graham said at a news conference Saturday night.

All six people on board —  the pilot-in-command, a safety pilot and four passengers — were killed, Graham said.

Authorities have not publicly identified the victims.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the director general of the World Trade Organization, said in a post on X that Herbert Wigwe, the group CEO of the Lagos-based Access Bank, was on board the helicopter with his wife and son. She did not include the names of Wigwe’s wife and son.

A fourth passenger, Bimbo Ogunbanjo, also known as Abimbola Ogunbanjo, was among the dead, she said. He is the former chair of NGX Group, the Nigerian stock exchange.

Graham said the aircraft, an Airbus Helicopters H130, was operated and chartered by Orbic Air. The California-based company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Multiple motorists on nearby Interstate 15, which runs from near the U.S.-Mexico border to Las Vegas en route to Canada, reported seeing either the crash or its resulting fire Friday night, he said.

"There was fire when the aircraft did contact the terrain," Graham said, citing witness accounts.

Halloran Springs, the name for a natural springs site in the Mojave Desert and its surrounding community, is about 80 miles south of Las Vegas, where the Super Bowl between the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs is set to be held Sunday.

Boulder Springs is about 25 miles outside Las Vegas.

Temperatures in the area were in the high 20s at the time of the crash, according to National Weather Service data. Winds were fairly light, at around 10 mph, but gusts were starting to move in, and some were measured at 29 mph before the sun rose Saturday, according to the weather service.

Graham said witnesses reported rain and “a wintry mix” of weather at the time of the crash. In a separate press conference Sunday, Graham said NTSB meteorologists confirmed through weather radar images and data the witness reports of precipitation at the time and location of the crash.

The California Highway Patrol reported shortly after the crash that a “large band of snow” was moving through Halloran Springs, according to a log of traffic incidents. It said the snow was moderate and mixed with rain.

The cause of the crash has not been determined.

Wigwe was being mourned as an influential banker who had grand ambitions for his native Nigeria and beyond.

“The death of Roosevelt Herbert Wigwe is a terrible blow for Nigeria and Africa’s banking industry,” Bayo Onanuga, spokesperson and special adviser to President Bola Ahmed Adekunle Tinubu of Nigeria, said on X.

“Wigwe had a big vision to make Access Holdings Africa’s biggest, with all the unquenchable thirst for acquisitions,” he continued, referring to Access Bank’s parent company.

Nigerian journalist and celebrity Modele Sarafa-Yusuf said on her social media accounts Saturday that Wigwe was a friend, and that his loss is profound.

“He had such amazing impact in banking and finance, art, education, and philanthropy,” she said. “Cerebral and quick-witted, he was always a joy to be around.”