Chris Cline, the billionaire coal magnate and philanthropist with West Virginia roots, has died in a helicopter in the Bahamas with six other people. Reports say his daughter was also on board the craft.
His daughter Kameron Cline, a recent college graduate and Cline’s younger of two daughters, also perished in the helicopter, according to a tweet from a West Virginia politician. The helicopter, according to AP, went down two miles from private islands that Cline owned called Big Grand Cay. Two of Kameron’s sorority sisters at LSU – Brittney Searson and Jillian Clark – died on the helicopter with her, according to NOLA.com and the Palm Beach Post.
“We are all so deeply saddened to announce the deaths of our beloved father Chris and our sister Kameron,” Cline’s family said in a statement. “This loss will be felt by all those who had the privilege of having known them. Chris was 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. 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 Register-Herald reported that friends told the newspaper that those on board were Cline, “David Jude, one of Cline’s daughters, two young adults from Beckley, unidentified friends and an unidentified helicopter mechanic from Florida.” That newspaper is local to Beckley, West Virginia, where Cline – once dubbed “New King Coal” was from. The Herald-Dispatch named another of the victims as Delaney Wykle (Wykle, who studied at West Virginia University, is friends with the four Cline siblings on Facebook.)
Jude was Chris Cline’s pilot, according to WVMetroNews. West Virginia Golf Association Executive Director Brad Ullman recalled to the newspaper that Jude was both a great golfer and person. According to the newspaper, Jude “recently qualified and played in the West Virginia Open.”
WVGA wrote on Twitter: “The WVGA would like to send its condolences to the family of David Jude. David was a great ambassador for the game of golf in the mountain state and always had a smile on his face. Please keep the Jude family in your thoughts and prayers in this difficult time.”
The Bahamas Press also wrote: “We confirm Cline’s daughter, David Jude, Delaney Wykle, two unidentified friends and an unidentified helicopter mechanic from Florida are among the victims.” Authorities have not formally released any victims’ names, though. Old Facebook posts show Jude had gone on trips to exotic destinations with another one of Cline’s daughters in the past.
Specifically, the chopper went down near Walker’s Cay, Abaco, and is believed to have crashed shortly after taking off. Horrifically, Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dionisio D’Aguilar told the Register-Herald: “We’ve located the craft. It seems as if the seven passengers are still onboard so therefore submerged, but we can’t confirm anything yet.” Radar Online has now published photos showing bodies being removed from the crash site. You can see them here but be aware that they are disturbing, although they are covered.
Jim Justice, the governor of West Virginia, where Cline was from, confirmed the news in a tweet, writing, “Today we lost a WV superstar and I lost a very close friend. Our families go back to the beginning of the Cline empire – Pioneer Fuel. Chris Cline built an empire and on every occasion was always there to give. What a wonderful, loving, and giving man.”
According to EOnline, Cline, who was married twice, has two sons and two daughters. According to Forbes, Cline’s children are all adults; his first wife died of cancer, and his second marriage ended in divorce.
Cline once dated Tiger Woods’ ex Elin Nordegren.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Cause of the Crash Is Not Clear
According to WPTV, the cause of the helicopter crash is not clear. Although Cline was a West Virginia native, he had a home in West Palm Beach.
The crash was also confirmed by a Bahamian official, The Palm Beach Post reported. Bahamian Air Accident Investigation Department Chief Investigator Delvin Major said the helicopter crashed between Grand Cay and Fort Lauderdale, killing seven people on board, according to the newspaper, which added that a friend says the helicopter may have been traveling from the Bahamas to Fort Lauderdale because someone on board was ill.
According to the Register-Herald, though, the officials did not confirm the identities of those on the helicopter, although they said all seven were Americans. According to the AP, authorities have now taken the bodies from the helicopter to work on formally making identifications, saying three men and four women were on board. Authorities said they don’t think a distress call was made and the helicopter remained in the water, AP reported.
Brenton Southern Baptist Church wrote on Facebook: “Unfortunately we have confirmed by the family that Chris Cline was in a helicopter crash very early in the morning near the Bahamas. There are reports of several others aboard the helicopter including his younger daughter. Chris was one of the twelve charter members of our church when it began nearly 50 years ago. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. We will post more as it develops.”
“My deepest sympathies go out to the family and friends of great businessman and energy expert Chris Cline, his wonderful daughter, Kameron, and their friends, on the tragic accident which took place in the Bahamas,” President Donald Trump wrote. “The great people of West Virginia will never forget them!”
2. Kameron Cline Was a Recent LSU Graduate in a Sorority Who Loved Wakeboarding
Cline’s younger daughter, Kameron, wrote on Facebook that she liked wakeboarding. She also wrote that she went to The Benjamin School, lives in West Palm Beach, Florida, and was from Beckley, West Virginia. She was a 2019 graduate of LSU and was in a sorority.
Jillian Clark, a well-regarded volleyball player who was in a sorority with Kameron Cline at LSU, was also on board, according to NOLA.com. Brittney Searson’s mother confirmed to the Palm Beach Post that her daughter, a roommate and sorority sister of Kameron, was also on board the helicopter. She said the group had gone to the Bahamas to celebrate the holiday.
West Virginia state Sen. Sue Cline identified Kameron Cline as the daughter killed. She wrote on Twitter, “Prayers for Family and friends of my great friend Chris Cline and his daughter Cameron and her dear friends who we loss today in a helicopter crash . Chris was a exceptional human being and we all loved him so much . Such a loss for all 7 aboard today . Our hearts are broken.” (Chris’s daughter’s name was spelled Kameron, though.)
His first wife was named Sabrina, and she died of cancer in 1987. His second wife was named Kelly, and they were married from 1993 to 2000. In addition to Kameron Cline, he has a daughter named Candice Cline Kenan and two sons named Christopher and Alex. An obituary for Sabrina’s father indicates that only Candice was her daughter with Chris Cline.
Candice Cline’s name is now Candice Cline Kenan. On Facebook, she says that she “studied Real estate at University of Georgia,” “lives in Charleston, South Carolina,” and is from Beckley, West Virginia. At the time of her wedding, she was described as the director of a private foundation (she’s listed here as running the Cline Family Foundation.)
According to Forbes, Cline named one of his coal mines after his daughter, Candice.
A United States Securities and Exchange Commission document for Foresight Energy LP lists Cline’s children in referencing various trusts. It mentions Kameron N. Cline as being the recipient of a trust.
For starters, there was the Alex T. Cline 2017 Irrevocable Trust, “the beneficiary of which is Alex T. Cline, a child of Mr. Cline,” and “The Candice Cline Kenan 2017 Irrevocable Trust, the beneficiary of which is Candice Cline Kenan, a child of Mr. Cline.” The document says there is also a “Christopher L. Cline 2017 Irrevocable Trust, the beneficiary of which is Christopher L. Cline, a child of Mr. Cline” and the “Kameron N. Cline 2017 Irrevocable Trust, the beneficiary of which is Kameron N. Cline, a child of Mr. Cline.”
3. Cline Developed & Operated More Than 25 Coal Mining Facilities
Chris Cline made his fortune in coal mining. His website bio explains, “Chris Cline is the founder of Foresight Energy. Mr. Cline has more than 35 years experience in the coal industry.”
According to the website, Cline began his career “as a contract miner in southern West Virginia, Mr. Cline has developed and operated over 25 coal mining, processing and transportation facilities in the Appalachian Region and the Illinois Basin, including some of the most productive long wall mining operations in the country. Today, Mr. Cline controls more than three billion tons of coal reserves in Illinois and Central Appalachia.”
The biography added that Cline “developed and/or operated over 25 coal mining, processing and transportation operations in the Appalachian Region and the Illinois Basin” and “Controls more than three billion tons of coal reserves in Illinois and Central Appalachia.”
Although he dropped out of Marshall University, he was a major donor to the school.
4. Tributes Flowed in for Cline, Who Was a Major Philanthropist in West Virginia
Governor Matt Bevin of Kentucky wrote on Twitter: “America lost a great man today. My family is heartbroken at the loss of our dear friend, Chris Cline. A brilliant businessman & one of the most generous people I have ever met. He came from humble beginnings & never forgot his roots. He loved America.”
Randy Hunt, Public Address Announcer at WVU Tech Golden Bear Athletics, wrote on Facebook, “Oh my goodness. Chris Cline and other family dead in Copter crash. My daughter was close to this family. Another young girl was on the flight that we knew also. Heart breaking. Prayers for all these families. 😢”
West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Evan Jenkins released a statement that said: “I am devastated by the loss of Chris Cline. A generous home state supporter who’s worked so hard for the YMCA in Beckley will be a lasting tribute to him. The most genuine person came out of the ‘School of Hard Knocks’ to achieve everything positive. This is a real loss of a loving father for his family, heart breaking for them and all of the state.”
Christopher Cline was 60-years-old.
5. Cline Had a Net Worth of $1.8 Billion
Christopher Cline was an extremely wealthy man. How wealthy? According to Forbes, he was worth an estimated $1.8 billion.
He got his start working in coal mines at age 15, Forbes reports, and then “bet big in the early 2000s, buying up high-sulfur coal reserves in Illinois on a belief that new tech would make the dirty fuel cleaner to burn.”
His coal mining company went public in 2014, netting him $1.4 billion, and he opened a mine in Nova Scotia in 2017, according to Forbes. The magazine reports that Cline used some of his money to buy a Lamborghini “and a 200-foot yacht called Mine Games.”