The chief executive of one of Nigeria’s largest banks is believed to have been killed along with his wife and son when a helicopter they were riding in crashed in Southern California’s Mojave Desert.

Herbert Wigwe, chief executive of Access Bank, and his family were among six people on board when the charter flight went down shortly after 10pm on Friday near Interstate 15, close to the California-Nevada border.

The others killed were two pilots and a fourth passenger, named as Bamofin Abimbola Ogunbanjo, former chair of NGX Group, the Nigerian stock exchange.

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

“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,” Mr Okonjo-Iweala wrote in a post on X. “May the souls of the departed rest in perfect peace.”

‘A terrible blow’ for Nigeria and Africa’s banking industry

Mr Wigwe, 57, 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.

His 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.”

‘This is surreal’

Mr 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 due 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 on X.

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The aircraft, an Airbus EC-130, left Palm Springs Airport at around 8.45pm on Friday and was travelling to Boulder City, Nevada, according to reports.

Boulder City is about 26 miles (40 km) southeast of Las Vegas, where the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers are set to play in Super Bowl LVIII on Sunday.

In this image taken from a National Transportation Safety Board video, Michael Graham of the NTSB, which is investigating a deadly helicopter crash that happened in Southern California's Mojave Desert speaks to the media in Barstow, Calif., Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024. The CEO of one of Nigeria's largest banks along with his wife and son were among those killed in Friday's crash. (National Transportation Safety Board via AP)
Michael Graham of the National Transportation Safety Board

Michael Graham from the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the crash, said witnesses reported that it was raining with a “wintry mix” at the time of the crash.

People also reported a fire on the helicopter as well as some downed power lines.

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


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