JUST IN: Nigeria joins investigation of US helicopter crash

The federal government of Nigeria through the Nigerian Safety Investigation Bureau (NSIB) has joined investigation of the helicopter crash which killed Mr. Herbert Wigwe Group CEO of Access Holdings and five others in the United States, on Friday night.

The ill-fated Airbus Helicopter EC130B4 occurred on Friday, February 9, 2024, at about 10:08 PM. (Pacific Standard Time) near Interstate 15 in Halloran Springs, California.

Former Chairman of the Nigerian Exchange Group, Mr. Abimbola Ogunbanjo, Mr. Wigwe’s wife, Chizoba and son, Chizzy, also died in the crash.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) of the United States has already commenced investigation into the incident.

However, the Nigerian arm of NTSB, NSIB, speaking through Director, Public Affairs and Consumer Protection, Mrs Bimbo Olawunmi Oladeji, said it has offered its full cooperation to the NTSB in the investigation of the tragic crash.

Oladeji said the Director General of the Nigerian Safety Investigation Bureau, Captain Alex Badeh, established contact with NTSB, in accordance with Chapter 5 subsection 27 of ICAO’s Annex 13 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation – Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigation, which grants a State (nation) special interest in an accident involving its citizens.

The section reads: “A State which has a special interest in an accident by virtue of fatalities or serious injuries to its citizens shall be entitled to appoint an expert who shall be entitled to:
a. visit the scene of the accident;
b. have access to the relevant information which is approved for public release by the State conducting the investigation, and information on the progress of the investigation; and
c. receive a copy of the Final Report.”

NSIB is the multimodal transport agency in Nigeria responsible for promoting transport safety and conducting objective and thorough, investigations into transport accidents.

Similarly, the NTSB is the counterpart agency in the United States charged with fulfilling the same function as the NSIB.

The NSIB statement confirmed that the ill-fated helicopter, operated by Orbic Air, LLC as a Part 135 charter flight, departed from Palm Springs, California, at 8:45 p.m. PST, en route to Boulder City, Nevada, quoting Michael Graham, a board member of the National Transportation Safety Board, during a news conference on Saturday.

It said, “Regrettably, the United States authorities have now confirmed that everyone onboard the aircraft lost their lives in the crash.

“The deceased are two crew members comprising a pilot in command and a “safety pilot” and four passengers namely Dr Herbert Wigwe, his wife, son, and Mr Abimbola Ogunbanjo, former Group Chairman of the Nigerian Exchange Group Plc, (NGX Group).

The NSIB stated that ICAO’s Annex 13 to the Convention on International Civil therefore grants Nigeria, through the Nigerian Safety Investigation Bureau, the prerogative to appoint an expert to actively participate in the investigation.

It added, “This participation ensures access to relevant information and facilitates cooperation with the investigating authorities, towards ensuring the investigation reaches a conclusive outcome.

“The ongoing discussion between the NSIB and NTSB has highlighted the diligent investigation efforts of the NTSB.

“NTSB investigators were present at the crash scene in Halloran Springs, California, on Saturday to collect evidence and conduct initial on-scene documentation. The documentation process included aerial mapping of the wreckage with a drone, and site measurements.

“Correspondence between the NSIB and NTSB further revealed that the NTSB investigation into the crash is being led by Aaron Sauer as the investigator in charge, supported by Mark Ward as the deputy investigator in charge.

“Several other NTSB investigators will also be examining various aspects of the accident including airworthiness and maintenance structures, operations, meteorology and air traffic control.

“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.

“Parties to the investigation include Orbic Air, LLC, and the FAA. As the investigation continues, other parties could be named.

“Additionally, the Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety (BEA), the French aviation accident investigation agency, will also serve as an accredited representative, due to France being the state of manufacturer for the Airbus helicopter and Turbomeca Engine.

“Both Airbus Helicopters and Turbomeca Engines will serve as technical advisors to the investigation.”

The NSIB further added that the duration of the accident investigation being conducted by NTSB is expected to take approximately 18 to 24 months to complete.