Orbic Air, the operator of a chopper transporting Herbert Wigwe, the CEO of Access Holdings that crashed and killed him, had a history of safety concerns as well as the failure of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) drug testing of its safety-sensitive employees.
BrandNewsDay reports that the tragic incident also took the life of Access Bank CEO Wigwe’s wife, and son, Bimbo Ogunbanjo 61, a former president of the National Council of the Nigeria Stock Exchange and 2 others in California.
In 2013, the mother of a man killed when an Orbic Air helicopter crashed during a shoot for a reality television show claimed in a wrongful death lawsuit that the aircraft’s operators and producers negligently operated the helicopter.
The case’s defendants were Van Nuys Copters and Orbic Air, the companies responsible for the lease of the helicopters.
“Defendants negligently failed to insure that the Bell 206B helicopter was functionally equipped and capable of operating over such terrain at night under visual meteorological conditions and failed to ensure that it was serviceable for the intended flight,” the suit stated.
The FAA levied a $3,300 civil penalty against Orbic Air in June 2018 for alleged violations of its drug-and-alcohol testing regulations related to random testing of existing employees, documents seen by MoneyCentral show.
The tests are often urine-based and must be collected by Department of Transportation (DOT) trained individuals. According to CFR Part 40.85, the standard urine samples are tested for marijuana metabolites, cocaine metabolites, amphetamines, opioids, and phencyclidine (PCP).
Meanwhile, in 2022, the company was involved in an incident where one of its aircraft made an emergency landing due to a mechanical issue. Additionally, in 2023, the FAA issued a warning to Orbic Air for non-compliance with safety regulations.
The Orbic Air Eurocopter EC 130 crashed near Nipton, the outer reaches of the Mojave Desert Preserve, east of the 15 Freeway, around 10 p.m. local time, the Federal Aviation Administration said. There was reportedly rainy weather at the time.
San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said the flight was heading to Boulder City, Nevada, about 25 miles outside of Las Vegas.
The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the crash. NTSB investigators should arrive on the scene by Sunday. “They will document the scene and examine the aircraft,” an NTSB spokesperson told Fox News. “The aircraft will then be recovered to a secure facility for further evaluation.”
The helicopter is registered to a Burbank-area tour company called Orbic Air.
The death of Wigwe, 57, shocked many in Nigeria and in the banking sector. He was widely seen as an industry leader, plotting major deals that transformed Access Holdings into one the largest financial services firms in Africa.
“Saddened by the news of the terrible loss of Herbert Wigwe … his wife and son as well as Bimbo Ogunbanjo in a helicopter crash,” Okonjo-Iweala, a former Nigerian finance minister and current director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO), wrote in a post on X, (formerly Twitter).
“May the souls of the departed rest in perfect peace.”
The crash happened south of I-15 near Halloran Springs Road, about 75 miles (120 kilometres) northeast of Barstow, according to Michael Graham of the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the crash.
Graham said he did not have information about the two crew members, a pilot and a safety pilot. The aircraft did not have a cockpit voice recorder or a flight data recorder and was not required to have them, he added.
The Airbus EC-130 left Palm Springs Airport at around 8:45 p.m. on Friday and was travelling to Boulder City, Nevada, Graham said. Boulder City is about 26 miles (40 kilometres) southeast of Las Vegas, where the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers are set to play in Super Bowl LVIII on Sunday.
It was a charter flight operated by Orbic Air LLC. Several people travelling on I-15 witnessed the crash and called 911, Graham said, and he urged them to contact the NTSB with more details, including photos and videos.
Witnesses reported that it was raining with a “wintry mix” at the time of the crash, according to Graham. People also reported a fire on the helicopter plus some downed power lines.
“This is the beginning of a long process. We will not jump to any conclusions,” Graham said during a news conference Saturday night. He also “expressed our deepest sympathies to the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives in this terrible tragedy.”
The crash site is not far from the California-Nevada border. It’s a remote area of the desert, with an elevation of nearly 3,000 feet (914.40 meters), and about a 60- to 80-mile (100- to 130-kilometer) drive from Las Vegas.