UPDATED: Macron,Atiku, others mourn Wigwe, Wife, Son, Ogunbanjo

French President, Mr. Emmanuel Macron; former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, among others were thrown into mourning on Saturday as the Co-founder and Group Chief Executive Officer of Access Holdings Plc, Herbert Wigwe; his wife, Chizoba, and his son died in a helicopter crash, which occurred on Friday night in the United States.

The Director General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; Edo State Governor, Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Mr. Festus Keyamo; Senator Orji Uzor Kalu; and Presidential Spokesman, Bayo Onanuga expressed sadness over the incident.

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

Olushola flew with Wigwe, his wife, son 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.

But on getting to Palm Spring, Olushola declined to board the ill-fated flight going to Boulder City in Nevada, insisting that he would not travel by Helicopter at night due to the weather conditions.   

He was said to have opted to travel to Boulder City by road and escaped the air disaster, that claimed the lives of four others.

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 reads: “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.”

The crashed chopper also had on board three others, including the former Group Chairman of Nigerian Exchange Group Plc (NGX Group), Abimbola Ogunbanjo in California.

In their separate condolence messages, French President  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 the 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.

Last night, The New York Times quoted US authorities as saying that a helicopter carrying six people crashed on Friday night near the California-Nevada border, roughly 60 miles south of Las Vegas, and that no survivors had been located as of yesterday morning.

“The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said that the Eurocopter EC130 helicopter crashed at around 10 p.m. local time near Nipton, California, an unincorporated community about 60 miles south of Las Vegas in eastern San Bernardino County,” the report stated.

The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are said to be investigating the cause of the crash.

 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.

Addressing the media this morning, Board Member of NTSB, 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.

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