West Virginia billionaire, philanthropist among 7 Americans killed in Bahamas helicopter crash

A helicopter carrying seven Americans to Fort Lauderdale, Florida crashed Thursday off Grand Cay island in the Bahamas, killing everyone on aboard, Bahamian police said.

A statement from the Royal Bahamas Police Force said the helicopter went missing shortly after leaving Big Grand Cay and authorities and local residents later found the crash site two miles off Grand Cay. Police identified those killed as four women and three men but did not provide names.

The Register-Herald newspaper in Beckley, West Virginia, quoted Gov. Jim Justice as saying that one of the people killed in the crash was Chris Cline, whom the newspaper described as a “billionaire mining entrepreneur,” ”coal tycoon” and “benefactor to southern West Virginia.”

“West Virginia lost a super star, without any question,” the newspaper quoted Justice as saying. “A giving, good man. I just love him with all my soul. As governor, I will tell you we’ve lost a great West Virginian.”

“His selfless and generous support for programs and projects throughout the state improved the lives of countless West Virginians. His life’s story was one of hard work, love of family and caring support for others. My deepest condolences go out to his family.”

Justice told the newspaper he could not yet officially identify anyone else who died in the crash.

Justice’s spokesman, Jordan Damron, did not return an email or phone call asking for comment Thursday night to confirm his statements.

Bahamian police did not provide a cause of the crash but said an investigation with civil aviation authorities was underway.

He came from a family of coal miners

Cline grew up in a coal family — his father and grandfather worked at mines.

He started working as an underground miner in West Virginia in 1980 at age 22, and a decade later founded his energy development company, the Cline Group.

His experience, proactive approach to mine development and the strength of his team enabled him to capitalize on opportunities others missed, his company Foresight Energy says on its website.

“The Cline Group was soon recognized across the industry as a reliable coal supplier, an excellent lessee, and a desired employer committed to the health and safety of its miners — characteristics that continue to drive its success today,” it said.

Cline Group operated underground coal mines in the country for several years before starting Foresight Energy to focus on Illinois mining.

Foresight Energy generated coal sales revenues of $1.097 billion last fiscal year, it says on its website.

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