Dark Skies, Bad Weather Could Have Led To Fatal California Helicopter Crash That Killed 6

This undated photograph shows Herbert Wigwe, chief executive of Access Bank, Nigeria in his Lagos office. Wigwe was killed Friday, Feb. 9, 2024 along with his wife and son when a helicopter they were riding in crashed near in Southern California's Mojave Desert. (AP Photo/Ayodeji Owolabi)
This undated photograph shows Herbert Wigwe, chief executive of Access Bank, Nigeria in his Lagos office. Wigwe was killed Friday, Feb. 9, 2024 along with his wife and son when a helicopter they were riding in crashed near in Southern California's Mojave Desert. (AP Photo/Ayodeji Owolabi)
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Two aviation experts who reviewed newly released photos and video of Friday's helicopter crash that killed a prominent Nigerian banker and five others said the flight likely should have been canceled because of poor nighttime weather conditions in Southern California's Mojave Desert.

The National Transportation Safety Board released photos and video of the mangled wreckage this week as its investigators continue to look into what caused the crash. The agency's preliminary investigation report will be released in the coming weeks.

Weather reports from the time show a mix of rain and snow, and the aircraft flew over a remote area of the desert that likely would have had few lights for the pilot to navigate by, other than cars' headlights and taillights along the interstate.

“If I were in charge, I certainly would have said ‘No, thank you,' ” aviation safety consultant and retired Marine Corps Col. Pete Field told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Herbert Wigwe, chief executive of Access Bank, and his wife and 29-year-old son were among those aboard the helicopter when it crashed shortly after 10 p.m. near Interstate 15. Bamofin Abimbola Ogunbanjo, former chair of the Nigerian stock exchange, was also killed. Their deaths shocked many in Nigeria and in the banking sector.

Officials said the pilots — Benjamin Pettingill, 25, and Blake Hansen, 22 — also died in the crash. A member of Hansen's family said they were grieving Wednesday and declined to comment.

The helicopter left Palm Springs Airport around 8:45 p.m. on Friday and was traveling to Boulder City, Nevada, Graham said. Boulder City is about 26 miles (40 kilometers) southeast of Las Vegas, where the Kansas City Chiefs beat the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl 58 on Sunday. Wigwe's destination after the plane landed has not been confirmed.

The charter company, Orbic Air LLC, declined to comment Wednesday.

Flight-tracking data shows the helicopter was following the interstate until it made a slight right turn, turning south of the roadway, according to the NTSB. The data then shows a gradual descent and increasing ground speed.

The wreckage site, with a debris field about 100 yards (91.44 meters) long, shows that helicopter hit the ground with its nose low at a right-bank angle, the NTSB said. Witnesses reported a fire on the helicopter, as well as downed power lines, the NTSB said.

Clipping the power lines, which may have been hard for the pilot to see in the dark, could have caused the crash, said Al Diehl, a former NTSB investigator.

“In a matter of seconds, you can get disoriented,” he said.

Authorities have said there was a pilot and a safety pilot, but not who was serving in which role. Both were licensed as commercial helicopter pilots as well as flight instructors. The Airbus EC-130 only has controls for a single pilot.

The crash came just three days after a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter went down in the mountains outside San Diego during historic downpours, killing five Marines.

“It’s been a couple of terrible weeks for helicopters in Southern California,” Diehl said.

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Associated Press researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed.