Billionaire Chris Cline, the 'King of Coal,' among 7 killed in helicopter crash
Billionaire coal baron Chris Cline, whose mines were among the most productive in the country, died in a Fourth of July helicopter crash that killed seven people traveling from the Bahamas to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, according to multiple reports.
Cline, a West Virginia native, would have turned 61 Friday.
Bahamanian police said four women and three men on board died in the crash, but they did not name the victims - and civil aviation authorities said their identities were unknown. All seven passengers were Americans, The Associated Press reported.
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican, told the Register-Herald newspaper that Cline was among the dead and took to Twitter to call Cline "a W.Va. 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."
Brian Glasser, an attorney for Cline, confirmed to Bloomberg that his client was killed in the helicopter crash.
"He was a young man," Glasser said. "He was audacious. He was a great man, and he will be missed."
Glasser wrote on Twitter that Cline was the most courageous person he had represented.
"A billionaire, he never lost touch with the days he lived in a double wide and used a blow dryer to thaw his winter pipes," Glasser said.
The helicopter took off from Big Grand Cay around 2 a.m. on Thursday and was reported missing in the afternoon, when it did not arrive in Fort Lauderdale, the Royal Bahamas Police Force said in a statement. Authorities said police and local residents found the helicopter overturned in 16 feet of water about two miles off the island.
Police did not identify a cause of the crash, but said officials, including the Department of Civil Aviation and the Defense Force, were investigating.
Evan Jenkins, a justice of West Virginia's Supreme Court, said in a statement that Cline, his daughter, friends and pilot had died in the wreck. Cline had loved West Virginia, Jenkins wrote.
"His selfless and generous support for programs and projects throughout the state improved the lives of countless West Virginians," Jenkins said. "His life's story was one of hard work, love of family and caring support for others."
At the age of 22, Cline followed his father's and grandfather's footsteps into the underground coal mines of southern West Virginia, according to the website of his company, Foresight Energy. He later formed his own energy development company, the Cline Group, which rose to become one of the top 20 coal producers in the United States.
Cline also founded Foresight Energy to operate mines in Illinois. The firm earned $1.097 billion in coal sales in 2018, according to its website.
That success led Cline to a life of luxury, radio network West Virginia MetroNews reported. His 150-acre property in Beckley, West Virginia, included a go-kart track, a lake and pastures for Cline's goats, horses and llamas, MetroNews said. Cline also owned a yacht called Mine Games, the report said, and a mansion in North Palm Beach, Fla.
In 2010, Bloomberg dubbed Cline the "New King Coal." By 2015, Bloomberg had made a slight change to the nickname, calling him, simply, "the King of Coal" in an article about a $1 million contribution Cline had made to a super-PAC supporting Jeb Bush's presidential candidacy.
Cline, a major Republican donor, later gave $1 million to President Donald Trump's inaugural committee, according to OpenSecrets.org from the Center for Responsive Politics. He also donated to the failed presidential campaign of Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., according to The New York Times.
Cline's family foundation has donated millions of dollars to Marshall University, including a $5 million gift for sports medicine research. The athletic complex on campus is named in Cline's honor. Cline attended Marshall but dropped out to get into the coal business with his father, according to the Herald-Dispatch, a newspaper in Huntington, West Virginia.