A billionaire coal executive from West Virginia was among seven Americans killed in a helicopter crash near the Bahamas while traveling back to Florida on the Fourth of July, reports said.
Chris Cline, who was also a donor to President Trump, died a day before his 61st birthday, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice told the Register-Herald, a newspaper in Beckley, W. Va.
“Today we lost a WV superstar and I lost a very close friend,” Justice wrote on Twitter on Thursday. “Our families go back to the beginning of the Cline empire – Pioneer Fuel. Chris Cline built an empire and on every occasion was always there to give. What a wonderful, loving, and giving man.”
Cline’s daughter Kamie Conover was also among those killed, according to reports.
The helicopter was heading to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., when it crashed about two miles off the coast of Grand Cay island in the Bahamas, according to reports. The three women and four men aboard were all Americans, the Royal Bahamas Police Force said in a statement without releasing the names of the victims.
Cline made his fortune revamping Illinois’ coal industry, Bloomberg reported. Born in a West Virginia town of only 200 residents, Cline began working as a miner at age 22. He founded the Cline Group to mine coal in the hills of Appalachia before starting Foresight Energy LP, a joint venture with Robert Murray’s Murray Energy Corp., to expand into Illinois and Missouri. Foresight Energy LP was worth $2.6 billion at its peak.
Cline contributed $1 million to President Trump’s inaugural committee in 2017. Before Trump was elected president, Cline originally donated to a different Republican — Jeb Bush — making a $1 million contribution to a super-PAC supporting Bush’s campaign.
Cline was also a philanthropist and donated $5 million to his alma mater, Marshall University, for its sports medicine program.
“Our hearts are heavy with the terrible news this evening of the passing of prominent Son of Marshall Chris Cline,” Marshall University President Jerome A. “Jerry” Gilbert wrote on Twitter on Thursday. “Chris’s generosity to our research and athletics programs has made a mark on Marshall University. I am praying for his family.”
Civil aviation authorities are conducting an investigation into the cause of the crash.
In addition to Cline’s daughter, other victims included David Jude, Delaney Wykle, two unidentified friends and an unidentified helicopter mechanic from Florida, the Bahamas Press reported.
Cline reportedly dated Swedish model Elin Nordegren, who was previously married to golfer Tiger Woods.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.