13th February 2024
The Federal Government on Monday confirmed it had begun talks with the government of United States of America on the ongoing investigation of a chopper crash that claimed the lives of the Group Chief Executive Officer of Access Holdings, Herbert Wigwe, and some prominent Nigerians in California, USA, on Friday.
This came as American investigators said the wreckage of the crashed chopper would be transferred to a new location in the US for comprehensive tests on Tuesday (today).
Wigwe; his wife, Doreen; son, Chizi; and a former Group Chairman of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, Abimola Ogunbanjo, died after the Airbus Helicopter EC130B4 carrying them crashed at a border town between California and Nevada, killing all the six occupants including two crew members.
The sad development has led to widespread morning in Nigeria and the Diaspora. President Bola Tinubu, President Emmanuel Macron of France, state governors in Nigeria, business tycoons and some prominent Nigerians have expressed commiserated with the families of the deceased Nigerians.
The Federal Government said the Nigerian Safety Investigation Bureau had entered into discussions with the National Transportation Safety Board of the United States to officer necessary support on the ongoing investigation of the circumstances that led to crash of the chopper.
The ill-fated helicopter, operated by Orbic Air as a Part 135 charter flight, crashed around 10pm on Friday.
Nigeria’s NSIB is the Federal Government agency that investigates air crashes, among others in the country. The NTSB has similar mandate in the US.
The Director-General, NSIB, Captain Alex Badeh, who confirmed the latest move by the Federal Government in a statement, said Nigeria’s engagement with the US on the issue aligns with Chapter 5, Subsection 27 of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s Annex 13, which bothers on “Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigation.”
According to the NSIB statement, Chapter 5, Subsection 27 of the ICAO Annex 13 stipulates that a state having a special interest in an accident due to fatalities or serious injuries to its citizens is entitled to appoint an expert to “Visit the scene of the accident; have access to relevant information approved for public release by the state conducting the investigation, as well as information on the progress of the investigation; receive a copy of the final report.”
Already, Badeh said correspondences between the NSIB and the US NTSB had revealed that the NTSB investigation into the crash was being led by Aaron Sauer as the investigator in charge, supported by Mark Ward as the deputy investigator in charge.
The DG affirmed Nigeria’s commitment to fully collaborating with the US agency, aiming for a thorough and conclusive investigation that would enhance transport safety in both Nigeria and the United States.
He stated the crash had brought a colossal loss to Nigeria, adding, “Our hearts go out to the Wigwe and Ogunbanjo families and loved ones affected by this tragedy. We extend our deepest sympathies to them during this difficult time.”
The statement, signed by the Director, Public Affairs and Consumer Protection, NSIB, Mrs Bimbo Olawunmi Oladeji, quoted Badeh as explaining that, “Notably, the airworthiness investigation group initiated a meticulous examination of the debris field, which spans approximately 100 yards. All significant components of the helicopter, including the main transmission, engine, and various avionic elements, were identified and accounted for at the accident site.
“In tandem, the operations investigation group has commenced gathering crucial company information, including pilot records, flight dispatch records, and aircraft maintenance records. Moving forward, coordination is underway by the NTSB to transfer the wreckage to a secure location on Tuesday for in-depth examination and analysis scheduled.”
NTSB deepens probes
Meanwhile, the NTSB has also confirmed it has identified major components of the crashed helicopter, including electronic devices and onboard equipment, at the scene of the accident.
A Board Member at the NTSB, Michael Graham, stated that the team conducted aerial drone mapping and documented the wreckage, emphasising the agency’s commitment to a meticulous examination of the scene.
“Various electronic devices and onboard equipment were recovered at the scene for further examination and analysis,” he said, adding that the wreckage would be moved to a secure location on Tuesday for further examination and analysis.
He stated, “The debris field was approximately 100 yards in length”, highlighting that all major components of the crashed helicopter were located and identified at the accident site.
The investigator listed some of the components as: three main rotor blades, engine, tail rotor, landing gear, and skids.
Graham explained flight track data indicated the helicopter was traveling along Interstate 15, at an altitude of approximately 1000 to 1500 feet above ground level.
He further observed that toward the end of the flight, the track data showed a “slight right turn, turning south of the interstate, accompanied by a gradual descent and an increase in ground speed.”
The investigator clarified the flight track data stopped approximately a quarter mile before the wreckage location.
The wreckage site, according to him, reveals the helicopter impacted the terrain at a “nose low and right bank angle.”
In a retrospective note, he recalled that during his initial briefing on the incident, he had mentioned witnesses reporting rain and a wintry mix at the crash location. He affirmed that this information was subsequently verified by his team.
“Our NTSB meteorologist through weather radar images and data can now support witness reports of precipitation at the time and location of the accident,” Graham said.
“We’re working with Orbic to schedule interviews with key personnel,” he added.
Earlier, in a press briefing on Saturday evening in Barstow, California, Graham had said it was examining the airworthiness, maintenance, and structure of the crashed helicopter..
He also disclosed that the investigation involved parties such as the Federal Aviation Administration and Orbic Air LLC, the California-based charter flight operator.
Further, Graham revealed that the BEA French Aviation Investigation Agency would serve as an accredited representative of the investigation because France is the state of the manufacturer of the Airbus helicopter and Turbmeca engine.
Both Airbus helicopters and Turbomeca engines would serve as technical advisors to the investigation, he added.
Graham emphasised, “This marks the start of a lengthy process. We will refrain from drawing any premature conclusions,”
He also conveyed heartfelt condolences, stating, “We extend our deepest sympathies to the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives in this tragedy.”
According to Graham, witnesses reported seeing the helicopter engulfed in flames as it descended to the ground. The aircraft, he added, did not have cockpit voice recorder or flight data recorder.
He encouraged these witnesses to reach out to the NTSB, providing additional details, such as photos and videos they might have captured.
Graham revealed that witnesses noted “wintry mix” conditions, including rain, at the time of the crash.
Meanwhile, Ogun State Governor, Dapo Abiodun; Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote; former Chief Executive Officer of Access Bank PLc, Aig-Imoukhuede Aigboje, on Monday paid a condolence visit to the family of the late GCEO of Access Holdings, Wigwe.
Other sympathisers present during the visit to the home of the deceased’s parents were Pastor Shyngle Wigwe and his wife, Mrs. Stella Wigwe.
Also present at Chevron Quarters in Lekki, Lagos State were Founder of Stanbic IBTC, Atedo Peterside; leading economist, Pat Utomi, and other well-wishers.
Abiodun who shared pictures of the visit on his Facebook page, wrote, “In the company of Dr. Aliko Dangote and a group of close friends and associates, we gathered to express our heartfelt condolences to Pastor Shyngle Wigwe and his wife, Mrs. Stella Wigwe. These sorrowful parents have suffered the loss of their beloved sons, Mr. Herbert Wigwe, Mrs. Chizoba, and his son Chizi, in a tragic helicopter accident. During this solemn visit, we fervently beseech God to grant eternal peace to the departed souls and bring solace to the grieving families they have left behind.”
Also, during a visit to Ogunbajo’s house in the Ikoyi area of the state, dignitaries were received by the deceased’s brother, Tokunbo Ogunbanjo.
The dignitaries include, the Chairman of Honeywell Group, Oba Otudeko; Pastor Paul Adefarasin of House on The Rock, Otunba Niyi Adebayo, and Ogun State governor, Abiodun.
Also sharing the photos of the visit on his page, Abiodun extolled Ogunbanjo, describing him as one who led a life filled with goodness and profound influence.
He wrote, “With heavy hearts, we sincerely offered our condolences to the grieving family of the late Baamofin Abimbola Ogunbanjo, whose life was tragically lost in a devastating helicopter accident. It pains us deeply to endure this sorrowful news, but we find solace in knowing that Otunba Ogunbanjo led a life filled with goodness and profound influence.”
“In this difficult period, we stand united with the bereaved family, sharing their profound grief. May God’s solace and strength embrace them, providing comfort during this arduous journey.”
Wigwe’s kinsmen protest
Meanwhile, some indigenes and residents of Omike community, the hometown of late Access Holdings GCEO, Wigwe in Isiokpo, Ikwerre Local Government Area of Rivers State took to the streets on Monday to mourn his death.
The protesters, who were dressed in black attires, marched through the community singing songs of mourning.
During the protest, all shops and markets in the area were closed as the distraught protesters called on the United States Government to thoroughly investigate the helicopter crash which took Wigwe and some of his immediate family member lives.
They also demanded that their corpses be flown back to Nigeria and brought to the community for burial.
A representative of one of the protesters, identified as John Opurum, said the protesters were demanding to know the circumstances that led to the death of the deceased in the crash.
He stated, “Our demands are that the corpses must be brought back to Nigeria and to our soil here. We must bury him here. We don’t want to know what happened over there. But the United States Government must know how to do it and get us a good result.
“We must know why and how our brother died. His corpse and that of his wife and children must not be joked with. They must bring it down here to bury here in our soil. That is our demand. I’m standing on behalf of the youths.”