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Ill-fated U.S. chopper: French Pres. Macron, WTO DG,Okonjo-Iweala, Atiku, Onanuga others mourn Wigwe, wife, son, Ogunbanjo

....Access Holding, Presidency react

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The latest report from the U.S. Federal Airports Authority (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has confirmed that two crew members and four passengers aboard an EC130 helicopter that crashed on Friday night in California were fatally injured.

On board were co-founder and Group Chief Executive Officer of Access Holdings Plc, Herbert Wigwe; his wife, Chizoba; and his son.

Wigwe’s Special Assistant, Faleye Olusola, whose name was in the manifest, miraculously escaped death as he did not board the ill-fated flight but opted to travel by road.

Olushola flew with Wigwe and former Group Chairman of Nigerian Exchange Group Plc (NGX Group), Abimbola Ogunbanjo, from London, United Kingdom, to Palm Spring, a city in California, United States.

Addressing the media on Sunday morning, a board member of NTSB, Mr Michael Graham disclosed that the Airbus, EC130 helicopter departed Palm Springs, California enroute to Boulder in Nevada at 8.45 pm on Friday.

“At about 10.8pm, the helicopter impacted Halloran Springs, California. Halloran Springs is about 75 miles northeast Boston. Two crew members and four passengers were aboard and were fatally injured,” Graham explained.

“This is the beginning of a long process; we will not jump into any conclusion, and the information that I provide for you tonight is preliminary. A preliminary report will be available in a couple of weeks and however, a full NTSB investigation will be made and investigations will last between 24 months before the final report is published.

“Additional details about the accident include: the crew consisted of a pilot -in- command and a safety pilot; the accident flight was operated by Woebeck Air LSC, as a charter flight. Witness reports of the weather conditions at the time of the flight suggest rain and a wintery mist. The helicopter was not equipped with a voice recorder or a data recorder.

“This helicopter was not required to be equipped with those kinds of devices. We are aware of media reports of down power lines near the accident site; we will be looking into this report during our on-the-scene investigative phase of this investigation. Several NTSB investigators will be examining the following areas: airworthiness to include maintenance instructions of the helicopter, operations, meteorology and aero traffic control,” he explained.

He expressed NTSB’s deepest sympathy to the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives in the terrible tragedy.

” The NTSB about an hour ago arrived at the scene of the accident for investigation. Last night at 8.45 pm, an Airbus, EC130 helicopter departed Palm Springs, California enroute to Boulder in Nevada. At about 10.8pm, the helicopter impacted Halloran Springs , California. Halloran Springs is about 75 miles northeast Boulder. Two crew members and four passengers were aboard and were fatally injured. Before I go further, on behalf of the NTSB, I would like to express our deepest sympathy to the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives in the terrible tragedy.”

Meanwhile, Access Holdings has reacted to the incident in a statement, saying, however, that it lacked adequate information about the crash and was collaborating with the US authorities to get the updates.

The statement said: “We have received numerous inquiries concerning an airplane crash in the USA.

“Presently, we lack specific information; however, we are actively collaborating with US authorities who will furnish updates.

“Your understanding and support are valued, and we commit to keeping you informed promptly as we receive updates on the situation.”

According to the report, officials at the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department were made aware of the downed aircraft at 10:12 p.m. local time, a public information officer with the department, Mara Rodriguez, said in a statement, adding that the scene of the crash was determined to be east of Interstate 15, near Halloran Springs Road.

Meanwhile, the French President, Mr. Emmanuel Macron; the Director General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; former Vice President Atiku Abubakar; and Presidential Spokesman, Bayo Onanuga, expressed sadness over the incident.

The Nigerian business community was thrown into mourning yesterday as Wigwe; his wife, Chizoba, and son died in a helicopter crash that occurred on Friday night in the United States.

A former Vice President Atiku Abubakar; Director General of WTO, Okonjo-Iweala; Edo State Governor, Obaseki; Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Mr. Festus Keyamo; Senator Orji Uzor Kalu; and Presidential Spokesman, Bayo Onanuga expressed sadness over the incident.

In his condolence message sent on X, President Macron said France has lost a friend with the demise of Wigwe.

The French president noted that Wigwe worked tirelessly to strengthen the relationship between France and Nigeria through his leadership of the French -Nigeria Business Council.

Describing the late banker as a humanistic and talented entrepreneur, Macron expressed his heartfelt condolences to his family and loved ones.

The message read: “France has lost a friend, Herbert Wigwe, President of the French Nigeria Business Council. A humanistic and talented entrepreneur. He tirelessly worked to strengthen the relationship between our two countries. Our heartfelt thoughts go to his family and loved ones.”

Atiku, in a tweet on his X handle last night, described the incident as unfortunate.

In a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, Okonjo-Iweala wrote that she was “terribly saddened by the news of the terrible loss of Herbert Wigwe … his wife and son as well as Bimbo Ogunbanjo in a helicopter crash.”

“May the souls of the departed rest in perfect peace,” she added.
Sources said the chopper was headed to Las Vegas when it crashed near a border city between Nevada and California on Friday night. The US government confirmed all on board dead.

A consummate banker noted for his fearlessness and ingenuity, Herbert Wigwe was a visionary and progressive business leader, a philanthropist, and an undisputed leader in the economic and social transformation of Nigeria and Africa.

Acclaimed as one of Africa’s foremost corporate bankers, Herbert was the co-founder and Group Chief Executive Officer of Access Holdings and was credited with nurturing Access Bank into an international powerhouse.

Wigwe, who hails from the Ikwerre Local Government Area of Rivers State, was married to Chizoba Wigwe (née Nwuba) and had four children: Chizi, Tochi, Hannah, and David.

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