Preliminary Report On Helicopter Crash Involving Wigwe Reveals What Happened

Preliminary report received by Nigerian Safety Investigation Bureau (NSIB) from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) regarding the tragic Airbus Helicopter EC130B4 accident that claimed the lives of six Nigerians on February 9, 2024, near Halloran Springs, California says “Initial findings suggest that the helicopter suffered catastrophic damage upon impact, resulting in fragmentation of major components.”

A statement signed by Mrs Bimbo Olawumi Oladeji, NSIB’s Director, Public Affairs and Consumer Protection, reads: “Following the accident, the NSIB offered its full cooperation to the NTSB, the lead agency investigating the accident which claimed the lives of six individuals, including Nigerian businessman Dr. Herbert Wigwe, his wife Doreen Wigwe, son Chizi Wigwe, and former Chairman of the Nigerian Exchange Group, Mr. Abimbola Ogunbanjo.

The NSIB, in accordance with the prerogative granted by the International Civil Aviation Organization ICAO’s Annex 13 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation, has the right to access investigation information on aviation accidents and incidents involving Nigerian-registered aircraft or Nigerian citizens in 193 countries that are member states of the ICAO. Therefore, the NSIB has been actively engaging with the NTSB since the beginning of the investigation. As the lead agency, the NTSB has shared the preliminary report, which provides valuable information regarding the flight path, accident scene, and initial findings on the wreckage examination.

In the preliminary report shared by the NTSB, it was revealed that NSIB investigators, in collaboration with other relevant authorities and stakeholders such as David Gerlach FAA, Steve Gould Orbic Air LLC, Vincent Ecalle Bureau d’Enquetes et d’Analyses, Seth Buttner; Airbus Helicopters, Bryan Larimore; Safran Group have conducted on-site examinations and analysis of available data to determine the factors contributing to the accident. Initial findings suggest that the helicopter suffered catastrophic damage upon impact, resulting in fragmentation of major components.

The preliminary report on the Airbus Helicopter EC130B4, registered as N130CZ and operated by Orbic Air, LLC, under Part 135 regulations for on-demand flights, outlines crucial details surrounding the tragic incident. Departing from Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, California, the helicopter embarked on a journey to Boulder City Municipal Airport in Nevada via Palm Springs International Airport. However, during its flight, adverse weather conditions characterized by rain and a mix of snow, were encountered, as reported by witnesses. 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.

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 ft along a 120° magnetic, indicating a trajectory from an initial impact point which was a 1.5 ft deep, 12 ft long and 10 ft 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 swash plate and blade pitch change horns. The main rotor blades were fragmented and broom strawed, 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.

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. This typically includes photographs, interview summaries, documentation, and other relevant data that will give a clearer picture of the factors that led to the accident.  The Director General of the NSIB Capt. Alex Badeh stated “We wish to express our gratitude for the cooperation extended by the NTSB, which has facilitated the sharing of vital information. We will continue to work closely with relevant authorities leading the investigation, including the NTSB, to gather additional evidence and information necessary for a comprehensive understanding of the circumstances that led to this tragic event,” Badeh said.

The preliminary report emphasises that the information presented is subject to further investigation and analysis, with updates expected as additional evidence is gathered and assessed, ensuring 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.”


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Albinus Chiedu

Albinus Chiedu is a journalist, aviation media consultant, events management professional, and author. He has practiced journalism since 2000.

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