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Flying Wigwe, others in bad weather wrong – US aviation lawyer

A United States of America aviation lawyer, Robert Clifford, has said the tragic helicopter crash that claimed the lives of the Group Chief Executive Officer of Access Holdings, Herbert Wigwe, and other prominent Nigerians in California on Friday could have been averted.

Clifford, who is the Founder and Senior Partner of Clifford Law Offices in Chicago, disclosed this in a press statement posted on the company’s website on Wednesday.

Wigwe, his wife Doreen, his son Chizi, and a former Group Chairman of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, Abimola Ogunbanjo, lost their lives in a fatal crash.

The Airbus Helicopter EC130B4, carrying six occupants, including two crew members, crashed at a border town between California and Nevada.

Clifford’s statement came amid an ongoing investigation of the chopper crash by the US National Transportation Safety Board.

Already, investigators from the agency have transferred the aircraft wreckage to another location in the US for comprehensive laboratory examination and analysis.

The preliminary report of the crash is expected to be ready in four weeks, according to NTSB.

The statement, posted on Clifford Law Offices website read in part, “The crash of a helicopter that killed six people including a top Nigerian banker and his family along the California-Nevada border Saturday night immediately strikes one as a tragedy that may have been avoided given the known weather conditions at that time.”

Clifford was the Lead Counsel in the crash of a Boeing 737 MAX8 plane in Ethiopia which killed all the 157 souls on board from 35 countries on March 10, 2019.

The US attorney, who claimed to have also represented victims of many helicopter crashes questioned the decision of the pilots and others to allegedly take off in what was described as difficult weather conditions.

There were media reports that during the crash at 10pm on Friday, residents of the area reported rain and wintry weather conditions.

However, Clifford expressed hopes that the US National Transportation Safety Board would unravel if the crash was avoidable or not after its ongoing investigations.

“The National Transportation Safety Board investigators will thoroughly examine all aspects of what led up to the crash and ultimately will use their expertise to determine the probable cause of this crash to see if it was avoidable,” Clifford said.

He added, “It is always a horrific tragedy when innocent lives are lost in an aviation disaster.”

The NTBS has commenced an investigation, gathering crucial company information, including pilot records, flight dispatch records, and aircraft maintenance records.

The US agency had disclosed plans to transfer the wreckage to a secure location on Tuesday for an in-depth examination and analysis scheduled. However, the NTBS has yet to communicate what it found out from the examination.

While a preliminary report on the crash is expected to be released within four weeks, in March, a full NTSB investigation will last 12 to 24 months before the final report is issued.

Earlier in a press conference on Sunday, the NTSB revealed that witnesses reported “wintry mix” weather conditions, including rain, at the time of the crash.

A Board Member, NTSB, Michael Graham stated, “We currently have a meteorologist working on our team and we were working to analyse and get the exact weather conditions at that time.

“Of course, that’s out in the middle of the desert so we’ll have to find the closest reporting stations nearby to be able to give any accurate report,” he said.

The PUNCH reported that investigators mentioned that the helicopter was not equipped with a cockpit voice recorder or a flight data recorder, even though the aircraft was not required to have it, according to Graham.

Meanwhile, the NTSB in a statement on Wednesday urged the Federal Aviation Administration to mandate the retrofitting of all existing airplanes equipped with a cockpit voice recorder and a flight data recorder.

This call for action by the NTSB was in response to the Alaska Airlines accident on January 5, 2024, where crucial data was overwritten.

The proposed upgrade involves enhancing these devices to record 25 hours of audio, a significant increase from the current standard of two hours.

Since 2018, at least 14 NTSB investigations have been hampered because cockpit voice recorder, or CVR, data were overwritten, including seven serious runway incursions that occurred in early 2023.

NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said “In the recent Alaska Airlines door plug blowout accident, our investigators don’t have the CVR audio to fully understand all of the challenges the flight crew faced in response to the emergency.

“Any investigation in which the CVR audio is overwritten and unavailable to us means that we may miss opportunities to address safety issues identified on recordings. And that’s unacceptable.”

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