Vigil held for helicopter crash victims

Candle light cell app held up during a prayer vigil for the victims of the helicopter accident Thursday night at the Paul Cline Memorial Sports Complex.(Rick Barbero/The Register-Herald)

The greater Raleigh County community gathered under orange and pink skies to honor seven lives tragically lost with a candlelight vigil on Thursday evening. 

As the sun set at the Paul Cline Memorial Sports Complex, locals shared stories of love and loss, about billionaire coal executive and philanthropist Chris Cline and six others who perished in a helicopter crash on July Fourth in the Bahamas. 

"She was my light during the darkest of times and my support system through the good, the bad and the ugly," Danielle Ormandy spoke of her best friend Delaney Wykle, a 22-year-old Beckley native who, just two days prior to the crash, had received her nursing degree from West Virginia University. "I'm forever grateful that God chose Delaney as my best friend."

Wykle was described as having a "contagious joy for life" by those who knew her best. She had planned to work at Raleigh General as an ER nurse. Wykle was a lifelong friend of Chris Cline's daughter Kameron Cline, who was also killed in the crash. 

"'Kind people are my kind of people.' This was one of Kameron's favorite sayings," her mother, Kelly Cline-Fama, penned in a statement to those who attended the ceremony. In the letter, she detailed her pride and joy of having Kameron as a daughter.

Fama also shared that she had given Kameron a special necklace for graduating from Louisiana State University with a degree in business this past May. The necklace was a locket containing a photo of her and Kameron as a baby girl. Fama had hoped that one day Kameron would be able to replace the photo with one of her and her own daughter someday.

In exchange for the locket, Kameron gifted Fama with an infinity symbol necklace to "represent their bond as mother and daughter," Fama wrote. 

Friends also shared loving memories of David Jude, a Mingo County native and pilot who also perished in the crash.

"Dave was a genuine guy," said Ardie Jenkins, who had worked with Jude through Cline. "If he counted you as a friend, he would take a bullet for you." 

The sky had reached its brightest, most colorful peak when the stories of Chris Cline and his countless, and usually anonymous, philanthropic acts were shared by his cousin, Steve Deweese. 

According to Deweese, Cline offered financial aid to countless locals for medical and education costs, disaster relief and extracurricular activities at schools such as Woodrow Wilson and West Side high schools. 

"He didn't have to help but he did," Deweese said, "That was just him."

Orthopedic surgeon Joe Prudhomme, who traveled with Cline to offer medical aid on the road, echoed similar sentiments on Cline's generosity. 

"I could call Chris from South Africa and say 'Hey! I need help!' and he would say 'I'm on my way,' " Prudhomme said. "No questions asked.

"And I would do the same for him," he added. 

Prudhomme reminisced on the great fun he had going on long motorcycle rides with Cline and friends. He laughed as he recalled stopping at gas stations for snacks along the way and noticing Cline see a sign for someone needing a bone marrow transplant and later learning that he had covered the full financial cost for that random person's procedure. 

"If anybody was hurt, sick or poor, he took care of it and you would never know about it," Prudhomme said. "He made me feel like I could do more."

Brittany Searson and Jillian Clark, who were close friends of Kameron, and Geoffrey Painter, a native of the United Kingdom and a seasoned pilot, were also killed after the 17-seat Agusta Westland AW-1339 helicopter crashed into the waters off Grand Cay Island at about 2 a.m. on Independence Day.

The helicopter has been recovered from the crash site and is being held at an accident investigation facility in Florida. The National Transportation Safety Board has taken over the investigation. Although the investigation could take several months if not a couple of years, NTSB officials plan to release a preliminary report on the crash in about a week, according to The Associated Press.

— Email: kjames@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @KabreaJamesRH

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