Chris Cline, Coal Mining Entrepreneur, Is Killed in Helicopter Crash


Chris Cline, a billionaire entrepreneur, philanthropist and political donor once called the “King of Coal,” died Thursday in what local authorities said was a helicopter crash in the Bahamas that killed seven people.

Local authorities did not immediately identify the victims. But Brian Glasser, a lawyer for Mr. Cline, confirmed that Mr. Cline, who would have turned 61 on Friday, was among the dead.

Gov. Jim Justice of West Virginia said on Twitter on Thursday night that West Virginia had lost a “superstar” and that he had lost “a very close friend.”

“Chris Cline built an empire and on every occasion was always there to give,” Mr. Justice wrote. “What a wonderful, loving, and giving man.”

Delvin Major, the chief investigator of air accidents at the Bahamian Air Accident Investigation Department, said in an interview on Thursday night that seven people had been killed in a helicopter crash. But he said investigators had not determined the identity of the victims.

“The sex and the identity of the persons we cannot confirm at this time because their bodies have not been identified,” Mr. Major said. “The bodies were recovered and taken to Grand Bahama where the identification can take place.”

The victims were taken to the Rand Memorial Hospital on Friday morning and were expected to be identified by Friday afternoon, Mr. Major said.

Brenton Southern Baptist Church in West Virginia, for which Mr. Cline was one of 12 charter members, wrote on Facebook that Mr. Cline’s younger daughter was reportedly one of the victims.

The Royal Bahamas Police Force said the four men and three women who died were American, The Associated Press reported.

The helicopter was headed for Fort Lauderdale, Fla., but crashed in the ocean near the island of Grand Cay shortly after takeoff, Mr. Major said. Investigators were alerted around 5 p.m.

Mr. Cline was a well-known philanthropist and Republican donor who began working in the coal industry in West Virginia in 1980 at the age of 22. He rapidly rose through the industry ranks, founding an energy development group, the Cline Group, in 1990.

In 2006, he founded Foresight Energy to develop and operate mines in Illinois, according to a biography on the firm’s website, though he later sold his controlling interest to another coal company.

Mr. Cline’s personal wealth was valued at $1.8 billion, according to Forbes.

Mr. Cline was a major supporter of President Trump and many other Republicans. He donated $1 million to the president’s 2017 inauguration celebration, according to the Open Secrets site run by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks campaign donations. Organizers of the event raised $107 million, but its fund-raising and spending have drawn scrutiny from state and federal officials.

In 2015, he donated $1 million to a super PAC supporting the presidential campaign of former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, according to Bloomberg News. He later donated to a super PAC that supported the campaign of Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.

Mr. Cline also donated generously to Marshall University in Huntington, W. Va., which he attended. Jerome A. Gilbert, the university president, referred to him as a “son of Marshall” on Twitter Thursday night.

“Chris’s generosity to our research and athletics programs has made a mark on Marshall University,” he wrote. “I am praying for his family.”

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