Six people were killed in the Mojave Desert late Friday after the helicopter they were aboard crashed and caught fire, authorities said. Among the dead was Herbert Wigwe, the chief executive of a prominent Nigerian bank, who was hailed as a “visionary leader.”
“His legacy of excellence and compassion will continue to inspire us all,” Access Bank officials wrote in a social media statement confirming his death.
Wigwe’s wife and son, as well as another businessman, Abimbola Ogunbanjo, the former chair of 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 tweeted.
The final two victims were identified as the helicopter’s pilots by a National Transportation Safety Board spokesperson. At a Saturday news conference, Michael Graham said that the aircraft went down just after 10 p.m. local time near Interstate 15 in Halloran Springs, California. Operated by the California-based charter company Orbic Air, the helicopter had taken off from Palm Springs, California around 8:45 p.m. and had been destined for Boulder City, Nevada, about 26 miles outside of Las Vegas.
Despite rainy and wintry conditions, the helicopter caught fire upon impact, according to witnesses. The cause of the crash remained unclear on Sunday, with the NTSB and Federal Aviation Administration investigating the matter. The craft, a Eurocopter EC130, did not have a cockpit voice recorder or a flight data recorder, nor was it required to have them, Graham said.
“I’d like to express our deepest sympathies 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’s passengers as Wigwe, Ogunbanjo, Wigwe’s wife, Chizoba, and his son, Chizi.
“Their passing is an overwhelming tragedy that is shocking beyond comprehension,” he tweeted.
Godwin Obaseki, the governor of Nigeria’s Edo State, added that Wigwe “was a colossus in Nigeria’s financial sector, leading Access Bank to become an international brand that placed Nigeria on the global map of first-class financial services.” He called the deaths an “irreparable loss.”