A week after a helicopter crash took seven lives including Chris Cline and his daughter Kameron, the greater Raleigh County community will host a prayer vigil for the victims of the accident at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday at the Paul Cline Memorial Sports Complex, which was in part financed by the billionaire coal executive and philanthropist.
The 17-seat Agusta Westland AW-1339 helicopter crashed into the waters off Grand Cay Island about 2 a.m. on July Fourth after leaving the coal magnate’s private island in the Bahamas en route to a hospital in Florida due to an apparent medical emergency involving Cline’s daughter.
Also killed in the crash were David Jude, a Mingo County native and pilot, and Delaney Wykle, a 22-year-old Beckley native and lifelong friend of Kameron Cline who recently graduated from West Virginia University with a nursing degree.
Two other friends of Kameron Cline, Brittany Layne Searson and Jillian Clark, who recently graduated from Louisiana State University with Kameron Cline, also perished.
Geoffrey Painter, a native of the United Kingdom, was aboard the flight, too. He and Jude, both seasoned helicopter pilots, operated Cloud 9 Helicopters, a West Palm Beach, Florida-based flight school and charter service. There have been conflicting reports as to who was at the controls when the helicopter went down.
The helicopter has been recovered from the site and is said to be en route to Florida to an accident investigation facility, according to The Associated Press.
The National Transportation Safety Board has taken over the investigation, according to both the Palm Beach Post and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. While the investigation could take up to a year or more, NTSB officials plan to release a preliminary report on the crash in two weeks.
The Sun-Sentinel is reporting that there’s no word yet on when the victims’ bodies will be released by Bahamian authorities.
“The focus right now is on bringing the bodies back to the U.S.,” attorney Natasha Diemer, a spokeswoman for the Searson family, told the newspaper.
Kameron Cline and Brittney Searson, friends since age 10, were college roommates and both graduated from Louisiana State University in May, the newspaper reported. The family plans to have a joint memorial service for both Brittney and Kameron, but has not yet made funeral arrangements, Diemer said.
In West Virginia, the death of a hometown son and two native daughters has brought a reaction from the governor to those who have received millions in charitable contributions from Cline, even garnering a tweet from President Donald Trump.
The prayer vigil, open to the public, was announced by the Beckley Rotary Club.