'We Will Not See His Like Again': Billionaire Mining Tycoon Chris Cline Dies in Helicopter Crash
By Jordan Nelson
July 6, 2019 - Shockwaves rippled through southern West Virginia Friday as word spread of the Fourth of July helicopter crash that claimed the lives of Chris Cline, the Beckley-born billionaire mining tycoon, his 22-year-old daughter Kameron and five others.
As of late Friday evening, Bahamian officials had not yet confirmed the identities of everyone who lost their lives in the accident near Walker’s Cay. But friends and family members confirmed on social media and to The Register-Herald that the helicopter’s pilot and Cline family friend, David Jude, and Delaney Wykle, 22, of Beckley, were among the victims.
Also reportedly killed, according to multiple news outlets, were Jillian Clark and Brittney Searson, who attended Louisiana State University with Kameron Cline.
The young women, including Wykle, a childhood friend of Kameron Cline who had just received her nursing degree from West Virginia University, had been enjoying a girls’ trip, according to family friend Tammy Hancock.
Jude, a father of three, is from Kermit in Mingo County.
According to the Air Accident Investigation Department of the Bahamas (AAID), the helicopter was an Augusta SPA Helicopter, Model AW139. AAID Chief Investigator Delvin Major told The Register-Herald Friday afternoon the cause of the crash was not yet determined.
“The victims have been retrieved from the helicopter, but as of now the helicopter is still in the water,” Major said. “It will be awhile until the actual cause of the crash can be determined.
“Depending on the circumstances, retrieving the cause could take weeks, months or even a year,” he continued. “It’s just really hard to tell at this point, but I can definitely say we won’t know the cause any time this week.”
According to The Nassau Guardian newspaper, Bahamian police say the helicopter left Chris Cline’s private island Big Grand Cay at 2 a.m., en route to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Sources have indicated they were headed back because one of the females on board had fallen ill and needed care.
Bahamian Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dionisio D’Aguilar told the paper the helicopter crashed near Walker’s Cay, the northernmost island in the Bahamas, shortly after it took off. The helicopter was found overturned in 16 feet of water two miles off the coast on Thursday afternoon, according to NBC News.
The helicopter was reported missing shortly after 2 p.m. Thursday.
D’Aguilar said there had not been a request for the helicopter to take off before the flight, something Major says is a requirement.
Cline died just a day before his 61st birthday, with a net worth of $1.8 billion, according to Forbes.
He had worked in coal mines since age 15. In the early 2000s, he bought high-sulfur coal reserves in Illinois, and in 2014, he took coal mining firm Foresight Energy public and sold a controlling stake in 2015 for $1.5 billion, according to Forbes.
Cline attended Brenton Elementary School in Wyoming County, where he lived after moving from Isaban in McDowell County.
The 1976 graduate of Baileysville High School attended Marshall University but, according to university officials, dropped out at 22. He then headed into the coal business with his father.
He didn’t forget the Huntington-based university, though, as he was a major contributor to Marshall’s VISION campaign in 2011, and made a $5 million donation to establish an endowment to support new faculty and scientists for Marshall’s Sports Medicine Institute.
Later, the Cline Family Foundation gave another $8 million to construct the Chris Cline Athletic Complex.
Cline also was a large contributor to West Virginia University, where he donated $5 million from his Cline Family Foundation to the School of Medicine and the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics of WVU in 2011.
A large supporter of the City of Beckley, Cline donated funds for the Paul Cline Memorial Sports Youth Complex on the East Beckley Bypass, and recently pledged $10 million for construction of a planned YMCA facility, set to feature an indoor aquatic center on the hillside above the soccer field.
Cline owned a 150-acre property in Beckley and two oceanfront properties in Seminole Landing between North Palm and Juno Beach in Florida.
The Bahamian island Big Grand Cay comprises about 213 acres distributed over about half a dozen narrow islands. When Cline purchased the island, previously a retreat for former President Richard Nixon, in 2014, the property’s mansion sat on a bluff overlooking the ocean and had five bedrooms and four bathrooms.
In addition to Kameron, Cline had three other children — daughter Candice Cline and sons Logan and Tanner Cline.
Cline had been married twice. His first wife, Sabrina, died from breast cancer in 1987. He and his second wife, Kelly, married in 1993 and were divorced in 2000. Cline previously dated Tiger Woods’ ex-wife, Elin Nordegren.
Brian Glasser, Cline’s attorney, took to Twitter Thursday evening to confirm Cline’s passing. He called Cline a billionaire who never lost touch with the days he lived in a double-wide and used a blow dryer to thaw his winter pipes.
“He was the most courageous client we ever had the privilege to represent,” Glasser said. “We will not see his like again.”