Six people were killed Friday night in the Mojave Desert after the helicopter on board crashed and burst into flames, authorities said. Among the dead was Herbert Wigwe, chief executive of a major Nigerian bank, hailed as a “visionary leader”.
“His legacy of excellence and compassion will continue to inspire us all,” Access Bank officials wrote in a statement on social media confirming his death.
Wigwe’s wife and son, as well as another businessman, Abimbola Ogunbanjo, former chairman of the NGX Group, the Nigerian stock exchange, were also killed. Their deaths were confirmed by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the director-general of the World Trade Organization.
“May the souls of the departed rest in perfect peace,” she said. tweeted.
The last two victims were identified as the helicopter pilots by a spokesperson for the National Transportation Safety Board. At a news conference Saturday, Michael Graham said the plane crashed shortly after 10 p.m. local time near Interstate 15 in Halloran Springs, California.
Operated by California-based charter company Orbic Air, the helicopter had taken off from Palm Springs, California, around 8:45 p.m. and was destined for Boulder City, Nevada, about 26 miles from Las Vegas.
Despite the rainy and wintry conditions reported by witnesses, the helicopter caught fire upon impact, Graham said.
The cause of the crash remained unclear Sunday, with the NTSB and Federal Aviation Administration investigating the matter. The craft, a Eurocopter EC130, did not have a cockpit voice recorder or flight data recorder, nor was it necessary to have one, according to Graham.
“I would like to express our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives in this terrible tragedy,” he added.
Nigerian President Bola Tinubu identified the helicopter passengers as Wigwe, Ogunbanjo, Wigwe’s wife, Chizoba, and his son, Chizi.
“Their deaths are a heartbreaking tragedy that is beyond comprehension,” he said. tweeted.
Godwin Obaseki, governor of Edo State in Nigeria, added that Wigwe “was a colossus in the Nigerian financial sector, leading Access Bank to become an international brand that put Nigeria on the global map for premier financial services.” He called the deaths an “irreparable loss.”