Chris Cline

West Virginia coal billionaire and philanthropist Chris Cline along with six others, including his daughter, died in a helicopter crash near the Bahamas on Thursday. — Andrew Harrwe/Bloomberg via Getty

NASSAU, Bahamas — Coal billionaire and philanthropist Chris Cline died in a helicopter crash near the Bahamas on Thursday, a West Virginia official said.

“Today we lost a WV superstar and I lost a very close friend,” Gov. Jim Justice tweeted. “Chris Cline built an empire and on every occasion was always there to give. What a wonderful, loving and giving man.”

The Royal Bahamas Police Force said in a statement Friday that the crash killed seven people, but they did not identify any of the victims.

However, Joe Carey, a spokesman for Cline’s attorney, confirmed that the businessman and his daughter were among the seven Americans who died in the crash. Carey said 22-year-old Kameron Cline was among the dead, according to The Associated Press.

Police said a helicopter took off from Big Grand Cay about 2 a.m. Thursday and was reported missing about 2:50 p.m. when the aircraft didn’t arrive at its destination, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Police officers and residents of the Caribbean island discovered the aircraft overturned in 16 feet of water about 2 miles off Grand Cay in the Abacos and recovered the bodies of four females and three males, CNN reported.

The Department of Civil Aviation, the Royal Bahamas Police and the Defense Force are investigating.

Cline’s daughter was aboard the aircraft, according to the Brenton Southern Baptist Church, which confirmed that fact with family members.

Chris Cline was one of the charter members when the church started, it said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. We will post more as it develops,” it said in a statement.

Evan Jenkins, a justice at the West Virginia Supreme Court, said the state has lost a philanthropist who donated to several programs.

“His selfless and generous support for programs and projects throughout the state improved the lives of countless West Virginians,” he said in a statement. “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.

Cline, a native of Beckley, went to Marshall University and donated millions of dollars to the school. In 2014, the university in Huntington, West Virginia, dedicated an athletic complex named after the businessman.

The coal entrepreneur amassed a fortune valued at $1.8 billion and donated extensively to President Donald Trump and other Republican politicians.

Cline came from a coal family, with his father and grandfather having worked at mines. He started working as an underground miner in West Virginia in 1980 at the age of 22, and a decade later founded his energy development company, the Cline Group.

His experience, his assembled team and his approach to mine development enabled Cline to capitalize on opportunities others missed, according to Foresight Energy’s 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 across the country for several years before it started Foresight Energy to focus on Illinois mining.

Foresight Energy generated coal sales revenues of $1.097 billion during its last fiscal year, according to the company’s website.

— (Tribune Wire Services)

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