Nigerian leaders expressed deep sorrow on Sunday over the passing of the CEO of one of the country’s major banks following his tragic demise in a helicopter crash alongside five others on Friday in Southern California’s Mojave Desert.
Herbert Wigwe, the chief executive of Access Bank, along with his wife and son, were among the six individuals on board when the helicopter went down shortly after 10 p.m. near Interstate 15. The crash claimed the lives of all on board, including two pilots and Bamofin Abimbola Ogunbanjo, former chair of NGX Group, the Nigerian stock exchange.
President Bola Ahmed Tinubu of Nigeria mourned the loss in a message on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Their passing is an overwhelming tragedy that is shocking beyond comprehension,” he wrote. “I pray for the peaceful repose of the departed and ask God Almighty to comfort the multitude of Nigerians who are grieving and the families of the deceased at this deeply agonizing moment.”
The sudden death of Wigwe, aged 57, his wife, Chizoba, and their son, Chizi, has stunned many in Nigeria and the banking sector. Wigwe was highly regarded as an industry leader, with notable contributions to two of the country’s largest banks, including Guaranty Trust Bank, where he previously served as executive director.
During Wigwe’s tenure, Access Bank expanded its assets and footprint across several African countries.
“Dr. Wigwe was a key driving force and a larger-than-life personality who brought his remarkable passion, energy, and experience to the transformation of the Access franchise,” said Sunday Ekwochi, group company secretary of parent company Access Holdings, in a statement.
The bank, in a post on X, praised Wigwe’s “passion and unwavering commitment to excellence,” which transformed Access into a global powerhouse. “His legacy of excellence and compassion will continue to inspire us all,” the statement added.
Wigwe’s passing is described as “a terrible blow” for Nigeria and Africa’s banking industry by Nigerian presidential spokesman Bayo Onanuga on X. “Wigwe had a big vision to make Access Holdings Africa’s biggest, with all the unquenchable thirst for acquisitions,” Onanuga commented.
Wigwe’s interests extended beyond banking into the education sector. His private university, situated in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta region where he hailed from, is set to open in September, fulfilling his aspiration to give back to society.
The crash occurred south of I-15 near Halloran Springs Road, approximately 75 miles (120 km) northeast of Barstow, according to Michael Graham of the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the incident. A news conference was planned for Sunday afternoon to provide updates on the investigation.
The Airbus EC-130 departed from Palm Springs Airport around 8:45 p.m. on Friday and was en route to Boulder City, Nevada, Graham stated. Boulder City is located about 26 miles (40 kilometers) southeast of Las Vegas, where Super Bowl 58 was scheduled to take place on Sunday.
The flight was chartered by Orbic Air LLC. Several witnesses traveling on I-15 reported the crash to emergency services. Graham mentioned that witnesses observed rainy weather with a “wintry mix” at the time of the crash, along with a fire on the helicopter and downed power lines.
“This is the beginning of a long process. We will not jump to any conclusions,” Graham emphasized regarding the ongoing investigation.
The crash site is situated not far from the California-Nevada border, in a remote area of the desert known for an abandoned gas station. It’s approximately a 60- to 80-mile (100- to 130-km) drive from Las Vegas, with an elevation of nearly 3,000 feet (914.40 meters).
The tragic incident occurred just three days after a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter crashed in the mountains outside San Diego during heavy rainfall, resulting in the loss of five Marines.