Reactions from residents and public officials alike reflected the shock and sorrow that reverberated through West Virginia following Thursday’s tragic helicopter crash in the Bahamas that killed all seven people aboard.
Included in that toll were the owner of the helicopter, coal magnate and Beckley native Chris Cline and his daughter Kameron Cline, her friend Delaney Wykle and pilot David Jude of Kermit.
Well-known in the golfing community, Beckley resident Mike Mays was acquainted with both Chris Cline and Jude, the helicopter’s pilot.
“Mr. Cline employed so many people, and everybody is impacted by (his death),” Mays told The Register-Herald, noting that Beckley and Raleigh County combine to form a close community.
“Everybody knows each and every person. It’s not that you’re close to everybody, but you cherish the people. Throw in the golfing aspect, and we’re all community friends there, too.
“It’s sad. We’ve been stricken.”
Jude and his son Davey (now on the Latin American Tour as a professional) were both golfers, winning the West Virginia Golf Association Parent-Child Championship three times — in 2011, 2014 and 2016.
Mays said David Jude’s death was a “sudden and tragic loss.”
“David was a good man and good pilot,” Mays said. “Things happen, and we don’t know why. He was a constant friend to so many people.”
Ardie Jenkins of Beckley also knew both Jude and Cline — Jude for 16 or 17 years and Cline for 30 years. He said he found out Thursday about the fatal crash.
“It’s been a tough day or two,” he told the newspaper.
“They were just great guys,” Jenkins said. “They really loved their community — did everything they could to help out. I can’t say enough about Chris and what all he did to try to make things better here in Beckley. Everywhere really — down at Marshall and WVU. It was just incredible, the impact he had on things in our community.”
As for Jude, a father of three, Jenkins said, “I just know that Dave loved his kids. (He) loved playing golf and was good at what he did. He was just a good guy. He was the kind of person that stood up for the right thing whether it was popular or not. You knew where he stood.”
Dena Cushman, a longtime friend and more recent “hiking pal” of Paula Wykle, Delaney Wykle’s mother, described Delaney as having a “beautiful personality — glows from the inside out. Outgoing. Sweet.”
Cushman said, “The whole family is full of personality.”
Delaney was the younger of the Wykles’ two daughters. Only days ago, Cushman had held a bridal shower for Wykle’s older daughter, Makayla.
Delaney had recently graduated from nursing school. “I believe she just passed her boards Tuesday,” Cushman said.
Another friend of Paula Wykle, Tammy Hancock, said she watched the sisters grow up.
In an emotional interview with The Register-Herald, Hancock spoke of what a “wonderful family” and “wonderful parents” the Wykles are and what a “beautiful girl, inside and out,” Delaney was.
“We are all just heartbroken,” she said. “It’s just a beautiful young life cut short.”
Delaney and Kameron Cline had been friends since elementary school, Hancock said, noting that at the time of the accident, they were off on a “girls’ weekend.”
She also spoke of Delaney’s having received her nursing degree this year and passing her boards.
“(She) had a bright future — very, very bright future ahead of her. So did Kameron. Whole thing is sad — very, very sad.”
Hancock said the Wykle family is “just devastated.” She said most of the family was at Lake Norman, celebrating the Fourth of July week, at the time the helicopter crash happened. While the crash apparently occurred at 2 a.m. Thursday, the Wykles didn’t find out about it until 13 hours later, at 3 that afternoon.
Hancock also spoke about the loss of Chris Cline, a figure who loomed large in Raleigh County.
“There will be shockwaves through our community for years to come,” she said. “Everything he did philanthropically for Marshall, WVU — with the new YMCA being built. We will all feel shockwaves because of his death.”
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice — who is also a major figure in the coal industry — knew Chris Cline personally and was among the first to tweet about the loss.
“Today we lost a WV superstar and I lost a very close friend,” the governor tweeted on behalf of the state’s first lady and himself. “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.
“Cathy and I are praying for his family and all those involved in this tragedy.”
State Supreme Court Justice Evan Jenkins posted this message on Facebook Thursday: “I am heartbroken to learn that Chris Cline, his daughter, friends and pilot lost their lives in a tragic accident today.
“Chris loved West Virginia. His selfless and generous support for programs and projects throughout the state improved the lives of countless West Virginians. His life’s story was one of hard work, love of family and caring support for others.
“My deepest condolences go out to his family.”
In response to a Thursday news story announcing the fatal crash, U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito tweeted, “So sorry to hear this news. Chris was an incredible, humble and generous man. My heart goes out to all those who lost their lives and their loved ones during this difficult time.”
Chris Cline was seen as an innovator in the coal industry, consistently operating ahead of the curve.
“He always had a feel for what was next and acted on that,” Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said in a “Talkline” interview with Hoppy Kercheval on Friday.
Describing Cline as “very personable,” Raney acknowledged that the man was quite successful but always “quick to share” his good fortune with others.
“It’s a sad day for West Virginia and for the coal industry,” Raney told Kercheval. “He truly was a visionary.”
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The Register-Herald's features editor Michelle James contributed to this story.