Top Nigerian banker and lawyer among 6 dead in California desert helicopter crash

A major Nigerian banker, his wife, son and a notable Nigerian lawyer were among the six people killed in a helicopter crash in the California desert, authorities said Sunday.

Banker Herbert Wigwe, 57, was killed alongside his wife and son, according to Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director General of the World Trade Organization. The crash also killed Abimbola Ogunbanjo, a prominent Nigerian attorney and businessman. The three family members were traveling to the Las Vegas area to watch Super Bowl LVIII, according to Nigerian media.

The group was traveling on a chartered helicopter from Palm Springs, Calif., to the Las Vegas suburb of Boulder City, Nev., when the chopper went down on Friday night. Two pilots were also on board but have not yet been publicly identified.

Authorities responded to numerous 911 calls around 10 p.m. Friday about the helicopter crash near Interstate 15 outside the highway town of Baker. The chopper crashed near the lightly used overpass street of Halloran Springs Road, about 70 miles southwest of its intended destination.

The private Eurocopter EC-130 did not have a cockpit voice recorder or a flight data recorder and was not required to. The aircraft was registered to Orbic Air, a tour company based in the Los Angeles suburb of Burbank.

Investigators are still probing the cause of the crash. Weather conditions at the time included a “wintery mix” of precipitation.

Witnesses said the helicopter burst into flames when it struck the ground. The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration are both investigating.

Wigwe was the CEO of Access Bank, a massive financial conglomerate with offices across Africa and subsidiaries in France and the U.K.

“Terribly saddened by the news of the terrible loss of Herbert Wigwe,” Okonjo-Iweala wrote on Twitter. “My deepest sympathies and condolences.”

Wigwe and his wife, Chizoba, had four children together. One of them, a son, was also on the doomed helicopter flight.

“The death of Herbert Wigwe is a terrible blow for Nigeria and Africa’s banking industry,” Nigerian presidential spokesman Bayo Onanuga wrote on Twitter. “He also made a mark in his community, by building a university, that he once told me will make a difference by focusing on entrepreneurship. He has now left all to return to his maker. May his soul rest in perfect peace.”