UPDATE: West Virginia helicopter crash victims remembered at vigil

Published: Jul. 5, 2019 at 10:50 AM EDT
Email this link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

Friends and well-wishers who gathered in Beckley on Thursday, remembered billionaire coal executive Chris Cline as a person who used his wealth to help people in trouble, often anonymously.

The Register-Herald reports orthopedic surgeon Joe Prudhomme was one of several speakers at the community vigil. He told the crowd that once he and Cline stopped at a gas station and saw a sign about someone needing a bone marrow transplant.

Prudhomme says Cline covered the full cost of the stranger's operation.

Cline lived in Beckley for years when his daughter Kameron Cline was a child. That is how she and Beckley native Delaney Wykle became friends. Those three and four others were killed last week when their helicopter crashed after taking off from a remote private island in the Bahamas.

(Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Posted below is Chris Cline's obituary:

"Chris Cline never forgot his upbringing in the West Virginia coal mines. As his business savvy made him a billionaire, he did not forget his hometown of Isaban, his home state or its people, especially children, in need.

Mr. Cline, 60, died Thursday in a helicopter crash off the coast of his private island Big Grand Bay in the Bahamas with his beloved daughter Kameron, 22. Five others were lost in the tragic accident. Mr. Cline’s grandfather and father were coal miners. As a child, he was digging dirt and filling bags for his father to use in packing blasting holes. He earned a penny a bag.

He went to work underground as a teenager. After leaving Marshall University early to help his father in a punch mine, the enterprising Mr. Cline borrowed money to buy the company’s first continuous miner, an innovative improvement to coal production. He worked 16-hour shifts, seven days a week, month after month leading his crew, to pay it off. His big break came when he was able to buy an unprofitable mine for $1 million, improve its performance, and flip it for $17 million. One partner said, as quoted in Forbes, “He sees value in assets others overlook.”

He’d found his calling.

He never stopped doubling down on deals.

His coal enterprises took him from Appalachia to Illinois to Canada. He offered cash incentives to his miners, installed advanced and safe mining equipment, and was ahead of his time in anticipating the market for coal. A mining engineer said, according to a Forbes magazine profile of Mr. Cline, “Those guys would run through a wall for him.” Mr. Cline believed it was not enough to be innovative, you need a little luck. At Foresight, his four mine complexes were the most productive underground operations in the nation. He bought docks on the Mississippi River and built rail spurs to haul coal onto ships bound for India, Europe and Asia.

The boy from Isaban had become a man of the world.

Mr. Cline understood opponents of burning coal while defending coal and his role in supplying the world with it. He believed that people deserved the cheapest energy they could get. He had a curious mind, was eager to learn about everything and never stopped learning. As committed as he was to coal energy, for his Big Grand Cay property he installed solar panels and batteries. Where renewable energy sources made sense, he was eager to embrace them.

Upon learning of Mr. Cline’s death, President Trump tweeted to 62 million people: “My greatest 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. The great people of West Virginia will never forget them!”

As a reminder of the source of his wealth, Mr. Cline’s first, battered hard hat is placed prominently above the fireplace of his Beckley mansion. At that house, he created a lake large enough for water skiing and a 400-foot water slide, built a go-kart track, and paint ball obstacle course. Though a billionaire, he never lost touch with the days that he lived in a single-wide trailer and used a blow dryer to thaw his water pipes.

Mr. Cline was generous with his philanthropy, publicly through the Cline Family Foundation, founded in 2009, but most importantly, privately, almost daily. The Foundation focuses on donations throughout West Virginia in recognition of the community’s contribution to his success. It offers scholarships and grants, endows universities, and financially supports charitable organizations that make life better for children and older youth.

Among other donations, the Cline Family Foundation gave millions to West Virginia University, Marshall University, Place of Hope, a foster care and adoption organization; Peacehaven Community Farm, a home for disabled adults; orphanages in West Virginia and Haiti; Save the Children; humanitarian aid organizations in Tanzania; churches; and the Raleigh County YMCA, among other organizations, and many needy individuals over the years. He also supported The Benjamin School from which his daughter Kameron graduated in 2015. Few people beyond the recipients know details of Mr. Cline’s many and constant personal acts of private charity.

He played as hard as he worked and was happiest in the company of his life-long friends and family. Mr. Cline kept close his friends from all phases of his life and regularly included them in his leisure activities. Sharing his adventures with his four children and his lifelong friends was his particular pleasure. He would take crowds of friends and family to the Super Bowl, the Big East Tournament, myriad other sporting events, and on his frequent world travels. He loved the beach and nothing pleased him more than sharing good times at his homes and on his yacht. Mr. Cline was an adventure junkie whether it was driving fast cars or riding a four-wheeler like a banshee through the West Virginia hills. He had a good relationship with his money: he was willing to spend it.

He had his beloved Candice with his first wife, Sabrina, who tragically died of cancer in 1987. While divorced from his second wife of ten years, Kelly Cline Fama, in 2000, they shared three wonderful children, Logan, Tanner and Kameron, and a relationship of mutual respect for the rest of his life. Mr. Cline often remarked that his children could not have better parents than Kelly and their step-dad, Phillip.

No matter what the demands of his business, Mr. Cline was devoted and committed to time with his children. In a statement, Mr. Cline’s family said that he was “one of West Virginia’s strongest sons, an American original, full of grit, integrity, intelligence, and humor.” Of Mr. Cline’s daughter Kameron, the family wrote that she was “a bright light to all who knew her, loving, smart, compassionate and full of joy and enthusiasm for life and other people.” She graduated from Louisiana State University in May 2019 with a business degree and concentration in finance.

Her Benjamin School teachers wrote: “Kameron and the entire Cline family were all members of The Benjamin School community. Around campus, Kameron was known for her fun and upbeat personality. She joined the track team and excelled at the long jump, even qualifying for the state finals during her first year on the team. Kameron and classmate Brittney Searson shared a strong friendship; they were voted "Attached at the Hip" in their class superlatives.” Ms. Searson died in the accident with her best friend. Kameron graduated from The Benjamin School in May 2015.

Mr. Cline’s survivors include a daughter, Candice Cline Kenan and her husband James Graham Kenan; two sons, Christopher Logan Cline and Alex Tanner Cline; and two brothers, Greg Cline and Kenneth Cline.

Kameron Cline’s survivors include her mother and step-father, Kelly Cline Fama and Phillip George Fama of Mooresville, NC; a sister and brother-in-law, Candice Cline and James Graham Kenan; three brothers, Christopher Logan Cline, Alex Tanner Cline, and Ethan Phillip Fama. Grandparents who died before her are Casey Eugene and Sybial Maxine Cantrell of Clendenin, WV; Paul and Lassie Cline of Isaban, West Virginia; and step-grandparents George and Mary Ann Fama of Beckley.

A remembrance service will be held at the Raleigh County Armory at 200 Armory Drive, Beckley, West Virginia at 5 p.m. on Friday, July 12, 2019. All who wish to share our celebration of these wonderful lives are welcome to attend."

U.S. officials have taken over the investigation of a Bahamas helicopter crash that killed billionaire coal magnate Chris Cline and six other people.

National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Eric Weiss confirmed Monday that the wreckage has been moved to a secure site in the United States. He says a preliminary report should be available in about two weeks. The full investigation could take up to two years.

The Bahamas Air Accident Investigation Department says flight and data recorders have been recovered and shipped to the NTSB in Washington for analysis.

Bahamian officials say cranes pulled the 15-passenger Augusta AW139 from the ocean over the weekend. Investigators remained onsite Monday documenting wreckage to determine the complete craft was recovered.

The helicopter crashed Thursday after taking off from a remote private island.

(Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

10:30 a.m.

Aviation safety investigators in the Bahamas are working to determine the cause of a helicopter crash that killed seven Americans, including a billionaire coal baron from West Virginia.

None of the bodies recovered from the downed helicopter has been identified, but police Supt. Shanta Knowles told the Associated Press on Friday that the missing-aircraft report from Florida said billionaire Chris Cline was on board. She said the group of Americans from Big Grand Cay failed to arrive as expected in Fort Lauderdale. Cline was a billionaire coal tycoon and has been major donor to Republican politicians.

Jaime Nixon is an aviation safety analyst for the Air Accident Investigation Department of the Bahamas . She said a specialized ship was coming from Florida with equipment to pull the helicopter from the water.

The Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority told the Federal Aviation Administration that the Augusta AW139 helicopter was located in the water at about 7 p.m. on Thursday.


9:30 a.m.

Police in the Bahamas say the bodies of seven Americans in a downed helicopter have been taken to the capital in Nassau to be officially identified.

Police superintendent Shanta Knowles said they responded to a missing aircraft report from Florida, and were told that billionaire Chris Cline and a group of Americans from Big Grand Cay failed to arrive as expected in Fort Lauderdale. Cline, a billionaire coal tycoon, has been major donor to Republican politicians.

Knowles said information was preliminary and subject to change, but she did not believe there had been a distress call from the aircraft.

She said she believed that the helicopter was still in the water.


22:56 p.m.

Police in the Bahamas say a helicopter flying from Big Grand Cay island to Fort Lauderdale has crashed, killing seven Americans on board.

A statement from the Royal Bahamas Police Force said the cause of Thursday's crash two miles off Grand Cay was under investigation.

It did not provide the names of the people killed but identified them as four women and three men.

It said police and civil aviation authorities were probing the crash.

(Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Latest News