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American Billionaire Among 7 People Killed In Bahamas Helicopter Crash

Jul 5, 2019
Originally published on July 5, 2019 5:33 pm

Updated at 4:58 p.m. ET

Chris Cline, a billionaire who made his fortune in the American coal business, died Thursday in a helicopter crash in the Bahamas that killed all seven people onboard.

Cline, 60, and his daughter, Kameron, were both on the aircraft when it went down, Cline's attorney said. West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice tweeted late Thursday that "I lost a very close friend."

The Cline family, through an attorney, called Chris Cline "one of West Virginia's strongest sons, an American original, full of grit, integrity, intelligence and humor, a testament that our hopes and dreams are achievable when we believe and commit ourselves to action."

"Our sister, Kameron was a bright light to all who knew her, loving, smart, compassionate and full of joy and enthusiasm for life and other people," the statement said. "Their legacy of love and inspiration will live on through all of us. We love and miss them dearly but take comfort knowing they are with God now. We ask for prayers and privacy in our time of grieving."

The helicopter crashed after departing the island of Grand Cay around 2 a.m. ET en route to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., about 130 miles away, the Royal Bahamas Police force said in a statement to NPR.

About 12 hours passed from takeoff before the aircraft was reported missing to the Bahamian authorities around 2:50 p.m., police said. The aircraft was later found overturned in 16 feet of water about 2 miles from where it took off.

Bahamanian officials said they retrieved all seven bodies, four female and three male. They did not announce the names or nationalities of the victims.

It's not clear what caused the helicopter to crash or whether it issued a distress signal. The bodies have been moved to the capital in Nassau for official identification, according to The Associated Press.

"I still can't believe it," Cline's brother Greg Cline told The Palm Beach Post. "We were so close, all of us were." He added that his niece Kameron was a recent graduate of LSU.

Chris Cline's attorney tweeted that his client never forgot his humble roots despite amassing tremendous wealth. "A billionaire, he never lost touch with the days he lived in a double wide and used a blow dryer to thaw his winter pipes," Brian Glasser said.

Cline began his career at a young age toiling underground as a coal miner in West Virginia, like his father and grandfather before him.

In 1990, he formed the Cline Group, which grew to comprise coal mines in the Appalachian region and later the Illinois Basin. Cline founded Foresight Energy in 2006. Nearly a decade later, the man nicknamed "The King of Coal" sold his controlling stake for $1.4 billion, Forbes reports.

In March, the magazine put Cline's net worth at $1.8 billion.

A prominent Republican donor and philanthropist, Cline contributed $1 million to President Trump's 2017 inauguration, according to OpenSecrets, a project of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. It also lists Cline as a top individual contributor to GOP candidates in 2016.

Cline took a special philanthropic interest in his home state of West Virginia. He established The Cline Family Foundation, which in 2011 gave $5 million to West Virginia University to endow a chair in orthopedic surgery and build a basketball practice facility. Later that year, the group announced another $5 million donation, to Marshall University, which Cline attended, for sports medicine research.

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