West Virginia has lost a native son, a well-known philanthropist, billionaire entrepreneur, and political donor, Chris Cline. According to the Royal Bahamian Police, Cline who according to Bloomberg was ,“the last King of Coal,” died in a helicopter crash near Walker’s Cay, Abaco in the Bahamas on Thursday, July 4 along with his daughter Kameron, and five others.
All Seven people are now recovered from the crash site according to a statement from the Royal Bahamian Police. A helicopter that had taken off from Big Grand Cay around 2 a.m. Thursday on route to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. was reported missing around 2:50 p.m. The aircraft was discovered, overturned and submerged in 16 feet of water about two miles off Grand Cay.
Cline’s daughter, Kameron, was also on the aircraft, along with some friends, the pilot and a mechanic, according to current reports. The cause of the crash is still under investigation by the Bahamian AAID (Air Accident Investigation Department) and U.S. Authorities, according to the Nassau Guardian.
Cline was well known throughout southern West Virginia and Appalachia due to his dedication to his workers and community. A native of Wyoming County, Cline attended Marshall University before founding the Cline Group and Foresight Energy. Jerome Gilbert, president of Marshall University tweeted that Cline was a, “prominent son of Marshall,” and his “generosity to our research and athletics programs has made a mark on Marshall University.”
Though Cline left Marshall University to entertain his mining pursuits, Cline used his wealth to become a benefactor of the University. Cline was a generous partner in the formation of Marshall’s Sports Medicine institute as well as the indoor athletic facilities and Hall of Fame. According to Herdzone, Marshall University’s sports information site, Cline believed that, “everybody in this state contributed to me getting started and making it in life, and I’ll probably never be able to pay them back.” Cline had contributed over $8 million to Marshall University. On September 6, 2014 Marshall University named the indoor facility the “Chris Cline Indoor Athletic Complex” at its dedication ceremony.
Cline began “officially” working in the coal industry at age 22, like so many West Virginians, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, being raised in a cloud of coal dust. Local legend dictates that Cline started in the mines with his father at the age of 15 and was hidden by other miners when the inspectors visited. Cline’s continued success as a coal industry leader garnered interest from his lifelong knowledge of coal production, his ability to negotiate and his vision and foresight. Cline formed the Cline Group in 1990 and with his forethought and management team he was able to often capitalize on what “others missed.”
Throughout the 1980s and 90s, the Cline group operated some of the most productive underground mining operations in the country inside Appalachia and on other coal sectors, as well. The Cline Group eventually shifted its focus to the “plentiful coal reserves in the Illinois Basin” in 2005. Foresight Energy was formed and continues the effort of Cline and his resolve in philanthropic services to the communities where they serve and work. According to the Foresight Company website, ventures, such as backpacks of food to local children, sponsorship of many community leagues and parks, as well as improvements to mining through higher education and extensive on-the-job training programs continue even after his departure from the firm. Cline had left Foresight Energy in 2010 for other ventures both domestically and internationally, including opportunities in the Bahamas.
WV Governor Jim Justice tweeted, “Today we lost a superstar, and I lost a very close friend.” Justice further stated that Cline, “…built an empire on every occasion and was always there to give. What a wonderful, loving and giving man.”
Cline’s lawyer, Brian Glasser, tweeted that Cline, “never lost touch with the days he lived in a double wide and used a blow dryer to thaw his winter pipes.” Cline was” the most courageous client we ever had the privilege to represent. We will not see his like again,” according to Glasser.
In December 2017 Cline was profiled in Forbes magazine after amassing a fortune of $1.8 billion. Cline was also known for his on-again, off-again association with Tiger Woods ex-wife, Elle Nordegren in 2013 after her heavily publicized divorce. Cline also became a major campaign contributor to Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell among others. Cline had lost his first wife to cancer and his second marriage ended in divorce. In addition to his daughter, Kameron, who was on board, Cline was also the father of three other children, Candice, Alex and Christopher. Cline would have been 61 years old on July 5.