(USA TODAY) — Chris Cline, billionaire coal mining entrepreneur from West Virginia, died in a helicopter crash that killed everyone aboard in the Bahamas on Thursday. He was 60.
Six other people also died in the helicopter that crashed off Grand Cay island on its way to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 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.
According to a Facebook post by West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Evan Jenkins, Cline’s daughter also may have been one of the seven passengers who died in the crash.
“His selfless and generous support for programs and projects throughout the state improved the lives of countless West Virginians,” Jenkins wrote on Facebook. “His life’s story was one of hard work, love of family and caring support for others.”
West Virginia Governor Jim Justice and Jerome A. Gilbert, president of Cline’s alma mater Marshall University, also expressed their sympathies on social media.
“Today we lost a WV superstar and I lost a very close friend,” Justice tweeted Thursday. “Chris Cline built an empire and on every occasion was always there to give. What a wonderful, loving, and giving man.”
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.
— Governor Jim Justice (@WVGovernor) July 5, 2019
“Our hearts are heavy with the terrible news this evening of the passing of prominent Son of Marshall Chris Cline,” Gilbert wrote on Twitter. “Chris’s generosity to our research and athletics programs has made a mark on Marshall University. I am praying for his family.”
Our hearts are heavy with the terrible news this evening of the passing of prominent Son of Marshall Chris Cline. Chris’s generosity to our research and athletics programs has made a mark on Marshall University. I am praying for his family.
— President Gilbert (@MarshalluPres) July 5, 2019
Bahamian police did not provide a cause of the crash but said an investigation with civil aviation authorities was underway.
Cline began working in the coal mining industry in West Virginia in 1980 at the age of 22, according to The New York Times. He founded the Cline Group in 1990, an energy development group, and Foresight Energy in 2006, the Times reported.
In addition to creating a coal mining empire, he was also a well-known philanthropist and donor to the Republican party.
He donated $1 million to President Donald Trump’s inauguration event, according to the Open Secrets site run by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks campaign donations. He also donated $1 million to a super PAC supporting the presidential campaign of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in 2015, according to Bloomberg News.