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Major Nigerian bank CEO killed in California helicopter crash

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  • ASSOCIATED PRESS /
                                This undated photograph shows Herbert Wigwe, chief executive of Access Bank, Nigeria in his Lagos office. Wigwe was killed Friday, Feb. 9, along with his wife and son when a helicopter they were riding in crashed near Southern California’s Mojave Desert.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS /

    This undated photograph shows Herbert Wigwe, chief executive of Access Bank, Nigeria in his Lagos office. Wigwe was killed Friday, Feb. 9, along with his wife and son when a helicopter they were riding in crashed near Southern California’s Mojave Desert.

The CEO of one of Nigeria ‘s largest banks was killed Friday along with his wife and son when a helicopter they were riding in crashed near Interstate 15 in Southern California’s Mojave Desert.

Herbert Wigwe, chief executive of Access Bank, was among the six people on board when the aircraft went down shortly after 10 p.m. All six people were killed, including two pilots and Bamofin Abimbola Ogunbanjo, former chair of NGX Group, the Nigerian stock exchange.

The deaths of Wigwe, his family and Ogunbanjo were confirmed Saturday by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former Nigerian finance minister who is now the director-general of the World Trade Organization.

“Terribly saddened by the news of the terrible loss,” Okonjo-Iweala wrote in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. “May the souls of the departed rest in perfect peace.”

The death of Wigwe, 57, shocked many in Nigeria and in the banking sector. He was widely seen as an industry leader, having been involved in two of the country’s biggest banks, including Guaranty Trust Bank, where he was previously executive director.

Under Wigwe’s leadership, Access Bank’s assets and presence grew beyond borders in several African countries.

“Dr. Wigwe was a key driving force and a larger-than-life personality who brought his remarkable passion, energy and experience to the transformation of the Access franchise,” Sunday Ekwochi, group company secretary of parent company Access Holdings, said Sunday in a statement.

Wigwe’s death is “a terrible blow” for Nigeria and Africa’s banking industry, Nigerian presidential spokesman Bayo Onanuga wrote on X. “Wigwe had a big vision to make Access Holdings (the parent company) Africa’s biggest, with all the unquenchable thirst for acquisitions,” Onanuga added.

Wigwe’s interests also spanned the education sector. His private university, founded in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta region where he was from, is scheduled to open in September. Last year he said the university was “an opportunity for me to give back to society.”

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

The crash happened south of I-15 near Halloran Springs Road, about 75 miles (120 km) northeast of Barstow, according to Michael Graham of the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the crash. The agency planned a Sunday afternoon news conference.

Graham said Saturday that he did not have information about the two crew members, a pilot and a safety pilot. The aircraft did not have a cockpit voice recorder or a flight data recorder and was not required to have them, he added.

The Airbus EC-130 left Palm Springs Airport at around 8:45 p.m. on Friday and was traveling to Boulder City, Nevada, Graham said. Boulder City is about 26 miles (40 kilometers) southeast of Las Vegas, where the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers are set to play in Super Bowl 58 on Sunday.

The flight was a charter operated by Orbic Air LLC. Several people traveling on I-15 witnessed the crash and called 911, Graham said, and he urged them to contact the NTSB with more details, including photos and videos.

Witnesses reported that it was raining with a “wintry mix” at the time of the crash, according to Graham. People also reported a fire on the helicopter plus some downed power lines.

“This is the beginning of a long process. We will not jump to any conclusions,” Graham said during a news conference Saturday night. He also “expressed our deepest sympathies to the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives in this terrible tragedy.”

The crash site is not far from the California-Nevada border. Halloran Springs Road crosses the highway in an area known to travelers for an abandoned gas station with a sign declaring “Lo Gas” and “Eat.” It’s a remote area of the desert, with an elevation of nearly 3,000 feet (914.40 meters), and about a 60- to 80-mile (100- to 130-km) drive from Las Vegas.

The crash came just three days after a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter went down in the mountains outside San Diego during historic downpours, killing five Marines.

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