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Wigwe: NTSB Issues Preliminary Report, Attributes Chopper Crash To Adverse Weather Exacerbated By Rain, Snow

The NSIB DG said the preliminary report stressed that the information presented is subject to further investigation and analysis

The United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released a preliminary report on the crash of Airbus Helicopter, EC130B4, which killed the Chief Executive Officer of Access Bank Holdings, Mr. Herbert Wigwe, and five others.

The helicopter, which crashed on February 9, 2024, was operated by Orbic Air and chartered by the late Nigerian businessman Wigwe, who died along with his wife, Chizoba; son Chizi, and a former Chairman of the Nigerian Exchange Group, Mr. Abimbola Ogunbanjo.

The report released on Friday, outlined crucial details surrounding the tragic incident and noted that adverse weather exacerbated by rain and snow led to the crash of the chopper.

The initial findings of NTSB suggested that the helicopter suffered catastrophic damage upon impact, resulting in the fragmentation of major components.

But its investigators in collaboration with other relevant authorities and stakeholders such as David Gerlach of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Steve Gould of Orbic Air LLC, Vincent Ecalle of Bureau d’Enquetes et d’Analyses, Seth Buttner of Airbus Helicopters, and Bryan Larimore of Safran Group conducted on-site examinations and analysis of available data to determine the factors contributing to the accident.

According to the Nigerian Safety Investigation Bureau (NSIB), the Nigerian accident investigation agency, the NTSB’s preliminary report provides valuable information regarding the flight path, accident scene, and initial findings on the wreckage examination.

It added that the flight, which departed from Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, California to Boulder City Municipal Airport in Nevada via Palm Springs International Airport, experienced “adverse weather conditions characterised by rain and a mix of snow as reported by witnesses.”

Director of Public Affairs and Consumer Protection of NSIB, Mrs. Bimbo Oladeji in a statement, added that the reports from law enforcement and eyewitnesses “also indicated that several individuals travelling along Interstate 15 (I-15) observed a ‘fireball’ in the area, prompting calls to emergency services.”

The statement said, “Subsequently, the wreckage of the helicopter was discovered in the high, mountainous desert and scrub-brush-covered terrain near Halloran Springs, California.

“Analysis of the accident site revealed a scattered debris pattern about 300 feet along a 120° magnetic, indicating a trajectory from an initial impact point, which was a 1.5 feet deep, 12 feet long and 10 feet wide ground crater, containing fragments of the right landing gear skid, cockpit wiring, and cabin floor structure. The right skid step protruded upward at a 45° angle at the extreme eastern edge of the ground crater.

“All major helicopter components were identified at the accident site. The helicopter’s fuselage was fragmented, and the cockpit and cabin were destroyed. Some debris and vegetation displayed thermal damage, indicative of the extent of the collision’s force.

“The flight control tubes and linkages leading up to the flight control servos were fragmented and continuity could not be verified. All three pitch control links were attached at the swashplate and blade pitch change horns.

“The main rotor blades were fragmented and broomstrawed, and the blade sleeves and tips were present. Data analysis utilised sources, including automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) data, operator personnel reports, and eyewitness accounts to reconstruct the flight path and sequence of events leading to the accident.”

Commenting on the report, the Director General of NSIB, Alex Badeh, noted that as the investigation progresses, the NSIB remains committed to engaging the NTSB to receive the public docket of the investigation, which will comprise the compendium of information gathered throughout the investigation.

He said the preliminary report emphasised that the information presented is subject to further investigation and analysis, with updates expected as additional evidence is gathered and assessed, to ensure a thorough understanding of the accident and its underlying causes.

“It is important to clearly state that the preliminary report is not the final determination of the cause of the accident. “Additional investigations and analysis are required before any conclusions can be drawn. The NSIB will continue to engage the NTSB and other stakeholders throughout the investigation process. Further updates on the progress of the investigation will be provided as significant developments emerge,” he added.

Chinedu Eze

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