Christopher Cline, the billionaire coal tycoon best known for reviving Illinois’ mining industry and making a fortune doing it, was among seven people killed in a helicopter crash in the Bahamas, his lawyer’s office confirmed Friday. He was 60 years old.
Cline and his 22-year-old daughter, Kameron, were on the aircraft when it went down Thursday, said Joe Carey, a spokesman for attorney Brian Glasser. The helicopter was carrying seven Americans to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., when it crashed, killing everyone aboard, Bahamian police said.
The Royal Bahamas Police Force said that the helicopter went missing shortly after leaving Big Grand Cay and that authorities and local residents later found the crash site two miles off Grand Cay. Police identified those killed as four women and three men but did not provide names.
Cline was the founder of St. Louis, Mo., coal miner Foresight Energy, a joint venture with Robert Murray’s Murray Energy Corp., and was a major Republican donor.
Cline, who died a day shy of his 61st birthday, was born into coal. His grandfather dug up the rock with a pickax, and he himself started working the mines at 22. Ten years later, he founded Cline Group to extract coal from beneath the hollows and rolling hills of Appalachia. He created Foresight to expand into Illinois in 2006. At its peak, the company was valued at more than $2.6 billion.
“Chris Cline built an empire and on every occasion was always there to give,” West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, a fellow coal miner, said on Twitter.
Bahamian police did not provide a cause of the crash but said an investigation with civil aviation authorities was underway.
Bahamas Police Supt. Shanta Knowles said Friday that the search began off the islands of Big Grand Cay when police received a report from Florida that a group including Cline had failed to arrive as expected Thursday in Fort Lauderdale.
The bodies have been taken to the capital in Nassau to be officially identified, Knowles said. The helicopter was still in the water, and based on preliminary information, she did not believe there had been a distress call before it went down.
Foresight and Cline Group didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment left late Thursday. Glasser said Cline’s team was in touch with Foresight Chief Executive Robert Moore. “Chris had total confidence in Rob Moore, and that remains,” he said.
Foresight’s stock has traded at a fraction of what it did when Cline took the company public in 2014, weighed down by collapsing coal prices, increased competition and waning demand. The company said in May that it was suspending dividends while also cutting earnings and shipment forecasts for the year. Its shares plunged the most in intraday trading in almost three years on the announcement.
Cline was no stranger to politics. In 2017 it was revealed he gave $1 million to President Trump’s inaugural committee. Two years earlier, he revealed himself as the donor behind a $1-million contribution to a super PAC supporting Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign. Federal records show he also spread thousands of dollars to conservative groups as well as committees representing prominent Republicans such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
Raised in a West Virginia town of 200 residents, Cline became one of the richest coal barons in America. According to a 2010 Bloomberg Markets profile, which dubbed him the “New King Coal,” he owned a 164-foot yacht called Mine Games and a 34,400-square-foot oceanfront mansion in Florida. The same profile noted that he would cruise Illinois in an Italian-made AgustaWestland helicopter with his Australian shepherd.
“He was a young man,” Glasser said. “He was audacious. He was a great man, and he will be missed.”
Tragedy haunted Cline — his first wife died of breast cancer in 1987, and his best friend, Sidney Green, died in 2002 when the roof collapsed in Cline’s mine near Wharton, W.Va.
Cline said in 2010 that he was already thinking about when his sons Christopher and Alex, then 16 and 15, would be old enough to join his business. He said they would need college educations and to be toughened up for life underground. To help his children, including two daughters, appreciate their privileged lives, Cline said at the time that he sometimes made them fly commercial, introduced them to miners and showed them videos of when he started out.
He said at the time that he hoped the films instilled a sense of what it took to rise from a life in a West Virginia backwater and become a billionaire.