Investigators confirm wet weather at time of helicopter crash that killed 6 in San Bernardino County

City News Service
Monday, February 12, 2024
Investigators confirm wet weather at time of deadly helicopter crash
Federal Investigators are weighing in on a helicopter crash that killed six people near Baker. The NTSB says wet weather may have played a role.

BAKER, Calif. (CNS) -- Federal investigators spent their first full day in the San Bernardino County desert and are picking up the pieces Monday of a helicopter that crashed, killing six people, including an executive of a Nigerian bank, his wife and son, and the former chair of the Nigerian Exchange Group.

All the major components of the Airbus Eurocopter EC130 helicopter were recovered Sunday at the crash site, including the three main rotor blades, the main transmission, the tail rotor, landing gear skids and various avionics components, National Transportation Safety Board Member Michael Graham told reporters.

NTSB flight-tracking data showed the helicopter traveling along I-15 about 1000 to 1,500 feet above ground and near the end of the flight the helicopter took a slight right turn, turning south of the interstate, and then had a gradual descent and increasing ground speed before flight data ended about a quarter-mile from the wreckage, Graham said.

"The wreckage site shows the helicopter impacted the terrain in a nose-low, right-bank angle."

The wreckage will be moved Tuesday to a secure location for further examination, he said.

NTSB meteorologists now concur with witnesses who noted there was rain and wintery mist in the area at the time of the crash, said Graham.

Six people were killed in a helicopter crash near Baker in San Bernardino County, officials confirmed.

The crash was reported at 10:08 p.m. Friday about a quarter-mile east of the 15 Freeway near Halloran Springs Road, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department and National Transportation Safety Board Member Michael Graham.

The Airbus Eurocopter EC130 helicopter had taken off from Palm Springs at 8:45 p.m. en route to Boulder City, Nevada, according to Graham. The French-made helicopter was chartered from Orbit Air, LLC in Burbank, he said.

"This is the beginning of a long process," Graham said of the federal investigation. Investigators will start at the crash scene "gathering perishable evidence," and the probe will likely take 12 to 24 months to complete.

The passengers on board the helicopter were identified as 57-year-old Dr. Herbert Onyewumbu Wigwe, Group CEO of Nigeria-based Access Bank, along with his wife and son, as well as Abimbola Ogunbanjo, a former chair of Nigerian Exchange Group, according to CBS News. The pilot and copilot were not yet identified.

The NTSB planned to investigate media reports of downed power lines in the area, Graham said. Witnesses reported seeing fire in the crash area, he said.

"May the souls of the departed rest in perfect peace," Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, World Trade Organization Director General, posted on social media. "My deepest sympathies and condolences to the Wigwe family, the Ogunbanjo family, Access Bank Group employees and Management."

"The news of the passing of the chief executive officer of Access Bank Holdings, Dr. Herbert Wigwe, who died in a helicopter crash in the United States of America, has left me extremely shocked and devastated," said Godwin Obaseki, governor of Edo State, located in the South-South geopolitical zone of the federal republic of Nigeria.

"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," he said.

"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," Obaseki said. "The tragic incident is painful and heart-wrenching, and we pray for God's abiding comfort in this profoundly difficult time."