Wigwe: NTSB’s preliminary report highlights probable causes, gives crash graphic details

  •  Accident reveals 1.5 ft deep, 12 ft long 10 ft wide ground crater
  • NSIB actively engaging US probe agency
  • Adverse weather, snow mix also fingered

 

The Nigerian Safety Investigation Bureau (NSIB) said it has received a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) of the accident involving Airbus Helicopter EC130B4 in which former Access Bank’s Group Chief Executive Officer, Herbert Wigwe, his wife Doreen, son, Chizi and former Chairman of the Nigerian Exchange Group, Mr Abimbola Ogunbanjo and two pilots were travelling on February 9, 2024, near Halloran Springs, California, United States.

The NSIB in a statement the NTSN shared with Nigeria’s NSIB and made available to journalists gave a graphic account of the accident, explaining that the initial findings suggest that the helicopter suffered catastrophic damage upon impact, resulting in fragmentation of major components.

The NSIB, by 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.

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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 GouldOrbic Air LLC, Vincent EcalleBureau 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.

However, during its flight, adverse weather conditions characterised by rain and a mix of snow, were encountered, as reported by witnesses, hinting that 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 report also noted that 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.

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According to the report, all major helicopter components were identified at the accident site, the helicopter’s fuselage was fragmented, and the cockpit and cabin were destroyed.

According to the NTSB report, “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.”

Wigwe

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.

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, ensuring a thorough understanding of the accident and its underlying causes.

It clearly stated that the preliminary report is not the final determination of the cause of the accident, stressing that additional investigations and analysis are required before any conclusions can be drawn.

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Director, Public Affairs and Consumer Protection of NSIB, Mrs. Bimbo Olawunmi Oladeji disclosed 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.

This, she said typically includes photographs, interview summaries, documentation, and other relevant data that would give a clearer picture of the factors that led to the accident.

The Director General of the NSIB Captain Alex Badeh said, “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”.

The NSIB, he further stated  will continue to engage the NTSB and other stakeholders throughout the investigation process, adding that further updates on the progress of the investigation will be provided as significant developments emerge.

Wole Shadare