All identities have been confirmed of those who died in a July Fourth helicopter crash in the Bahamas that claimed the lives of Chris Cline, the Beckley-born billionaire mining tycoon, his 22-year-old daughter Kameron, and five others.
Friends and family members confirmed on social media and to The Register-Herald that Delaney Wykle, 22, of Beckley, and David Jude, a Cline family friend, and were among the victims.
Also reportedly killed, according to multiple news outlets, were Jillian Clark and Brittney Searson, who attended Louisiana State University (LSU) with Kameron Cline. All three recently graduated from the university.
Family friends have told The Register-Herald that Jude was a long time family friend and pilot for the Cline family, however, CNN has reported he was not the pilot during the crash.
CNN reported Saturday morning that Bahamian police identified Geoffrey Lee Painter, 52, of the United Kingdom, as the pilot.
According to The Nassau Guardian newspaper, Bahamian police reported the helicopter left Cline’s private island Big Grand Cay at 2 a.m., en route to Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Bahamian Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dionisio D’Aguilar told the paper the helicopter crashed near Walker’s Cay, the northernmost island in the Bahamas, not long after it took off. The helicopter was found Thursday afternoon overturned in 16 feet of water two miles off the coast.
D’Aguilar reported there had been no request for the helicopter to take off, which is a requirement.
Terri Parker, a reporter from Florida with ABC News, took to her Twitter feed Friday evening, to say family friends have said Kameron Cline suffered a medical emergency at her father’s birthday bash on the island — prompting Cline to put his daughter, three of her friends and the two pilots on his helicopter to rush to a hospital.
Paul Wykle, Delaney’s father, told the Palm Beach Post his daughter was friends with Kameron and had just earned a nursing degree from West Virginia University.
“She passed her boards on Tuesday,” Wykle said of his daughter, “and died on Thursday.”
He also said he believed his daughter went on the helicopter to help a person who was ill.
LSU President F. King Alexander released a statement about the graduates.
“The LSU community is mourning the loss of three recent graduates, along with all of those who lost their lives in this tragic accident. Kameron, Jillian and Brittney were all May 2019 graduates and had such bright futures ahead of them,” the LSU president said. “Our deepest sympathies go out to the family and friends of everyone affected. This is a sad day for all of us.”
The Nassau Guardian newspaper also spoke with one of Cline’s employees, Mathien McIntosh, after the crash. McIntosh told the newspaper the night before, he and his brother-in-law watched the chopper come in.
“We watched it land and in about half an hour it went back up. As it went back up, it didn’t get very high. It went up and in about five minutes it just ‘boop’,” he said. “The light just disappeared and it was a loud crash. It was a loud bang in the water.”
McIntosh also told the newspaper he and others jumped into their boats to go searching after they heard the sound.
“This was about 2:30 a.m., and we went searching from about 2 to 4 a.m., almost 5 a.m., the next day,” he said. “Where it was so dark, we really couldn’t see anything because it was too dark so we called back to the island and they said, ‘No, no, no. The chopper is back in the states.’ So, I said ok, fine.”
However around 2 p.m. Thursday, police reported Cline’s helicopter as missing.
According to the Nassau Guardian newspaper, McIntosh assisted officials in finding the chopper. When officials finally located the crash site, McIntosh said he was “heartbroken.”
The newspaper reported McIntosh was present when divers pulled Cline’s body out of the water.
“Mr. Cline actually, was one of the first ones that came out,” he said. “Just then, a kid came out. It was four kids and they were about 19 to 21 years of age, kids in their prime. They had just graduated from college and came home to have fun and then boom; here today and gone tomorrow. It’s life.”
The Nassau Guardian newspaper also reported McGarrett Russell, a native of Abaco in the Bahamas, said he and his son went out with other members of the search and rescue team. His son had put on diving gear after they came about an area in the water that looked suspicious.
“He went down there and when he [came] up, he told us what he saw and it was sad. He said he saw persons onboard. They all had on their seat belt, apparently intact,” Russell told the news outlet. “My son said he had to take the pilot’s hand away from the controllers.
“He said everybody was intact as if no one was even trying to loosen their seat belt, and the doors were off.”
Air Accident Investigation Department of the Bahamas (AAID) Chief Investigator Delvin Major told The Register-Herald Friday afternoon the cause of the crash was not yet determined. According to AAID, the helicopter was an Augusta SPA Helicopter, Model AW139.
“The victims have been retrieved from the helicopter, but as of now the helicopter is still in the water,” Major said. “It will be awhile until the actual cause of the crash can be determined.”
As of Saturday afternoon, family and friends had not released dates of funeral services.
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