Chris Cline, the billionaire mining entrepreneur and coal tycoon and benefactor to southern West Virginia, and a reported six others died in a helicopter crash early Thursday in the waters off the coast of the Bahamas, friends of Cline reported to The Register-Herald on Thursday afternoon.
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice confirmed reports of Cline's death Thursday evening in a tweet. Nassau authorities confirmed that a submerged helicopter with seven aboard had been found near Walker's Cay. Bahamas police verified late Thursday that seven Americans — four women and three men — had died but did not identify the victims.
Friends of Cline's had reported that one of Cline's daughters was among the victims, along with two young adults from Beckley, unidentified friends and an unidentified helicopter mechanic from Florida.
The helicopter was en route to Fort Lauderdale from the Bahamas due to a possible illness of someone on board, when it crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, Cline's friends in Beckley reported.
The Nassau Guardian reported that the helicopter crashed near Walker’s Cay, Abaco, Thursday morning, according to Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dionisio D’Aguilar.
“Initial reports are coming in that a helicopter departed, I think it’s a cay near to Walker’s Cay, at 2 a.m. and I guess shortly after takeoff it crashed,” D’Aguilar said.
“We’ve located the craft. It seems as if the seven passengers are still onboard so therefore submerged, but we can’t confirm anything yet.
“They’re attempting…to first of all go to the helicopter and retrieve any souls that are onboard and start the investigation.”
He said the pilot of the helicopter “made no request or permission to go” before the flight.
Bahamian police did not provide a cause of the crash but said an investigation with civil aviation authorities was underway, according to Nassau media outlets..
Justice on Thursday told The Register-Herald that he could not yet officially identify others who lost their lives in the crash.
"West Virginia lost a super star, without any question," Justice said of Cline's death. "A giving, good man.
"I just love him with all my soul," he said of Cline. "People couldn't even imagine this.
"As governor, I will tell you we've lost a great West Virginian."
The Justice family had first owned Pioneer Fuel, said Justice.
"Chris ended up with Pioneer fuel and bought it, really, from my dad," said the governor, adding, "Chris would always be there to give, and he's a brilliant business guy, but he was always a giving guy."
Justice also described Cline as a "close" family friend.
Beckey Mayor Rob Rappold said he was "numb" on hearing the news of Cline's death and others. Rappold chose to focus on Cline's death in his public comments, pending identification of any Beckleyans who were aboard the helicopter.
"Words can't express the absolute sorrow and disbelief," said the mayor. "Southern West Virginia was Chris' love and his legacy of compassion and giving back will last forever."
This is a developing story.