Coal mining entrepreneur is killed in helicopter crash, reports say

Chris Cline, a billionaire entrepreneur, philanthropist and political donor once called the “King of Coal,” died Thursday in what news reports said was a helicopter crash in the Bahamas.

Coal mining entrepreneur is killed in helicopter crash, reports say

News media in Huntington, West Virginia, and Palm Beach, Florida, two states he called home, reported that Cline, who would have turned 61 on Friday, was killed in a crash in which six others also died. Those reports cited unnamed family friends.

Gov. Jim Justice of West Virginia said on Twitter on Thursday night that Cline had died, although he did not mention the cause of death. He referred to Cline as a West Virginia “superstar” and “a very close friend.”

“Chris Cline built an empire and on every occasion was always there to give,” Justice wrote. “What a wonderful, loving, and giving man.”

Delvin Major, the chief investigator of air accidents at the Bahamian Air Accident Investigation Department, said in an interview Thursday night that seven people were killed in a helicopter crash. But he said investigators had not determined the identity of the victims.

“The sex and the identity of the persons we cannot confirm at this time because their bodies have not been identified,” Major said. “The bodies were recovered and taken to Grand Bahama where the identification can take place.”

Major said a team had been dispatched from Nassau to Grand Bahama and would begin identifying the victims Friday. The Associated Press reported that the Royal Bahamas Police Force said the four men and three women who died were American.

The helicopter crashed in the ocean near the island of Grand Cay, Major said, and investigators were alerted around 5 p.m.

Cline was a well-known philanthropist and Republican donor who began working in the coal industry in West Virginia in 1980 at the age of 22. He rapidly rose through the industry ranks, founding an energy development group, the Cline Group, in 1990.

In 2006, he founded Foresight Energy to develop and operate mines in Illinois, according to a biography on the firm’s website.

In 2015, he donated $1 million to a super PAC supporting the presidential campaign of former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, according to Bloomberg News. He later donated to a super PAC that supported the campaign of Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida.

Cline also donated to Marshall University in Huntington, which he attended. Jerome Gilbert, the university president, referred to him as a “son of Marshall” on Twitter Thursday night.

“Chris’s generosity to our research and athletics programs has made a mark on Marshall University,” he wrote. “I am praying for his family.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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