The family of billionaire Chris Cline who died on Thursday with his daughter Kameron, three of her friends and two others in a helicopter crash in the Bahamas have spoken out about their grief.
In a statement to DailyMail.com on Friday, the family said: ‘We are all so deeply saddened to announce the deaths of our beloved father Chris and our sister Kameron. This loss will be felt by all those who had the privilege of having known them.
‘Chris was one of West Virginia’s strongest sons, an American original, full of grit, integrity, intelligence and humor, a testament that our hopes and dreams are achievable when we believe and commit ourselves to action.
‘Our sister, Kameron was a bright light to all who knew her, loving, smart, compassionate and full of joy and enthusiasm for life and other people. Their legacy of love and inspiration will live on through all of us.
‘We love and miss them dearly but take comfort knowing they are with God now.
‘We ask for prayers and privacy in our time of grieving.’
The father and daughter were flying from the Bahamas to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, when their aircraft plummeted in the early hours of Thursday morning. It remains unclear what caused the crash but all seven people on board died.
Delaney Wykle, Brittney Searson and Jill Clarke, Kameron’s friends, were also on board as was David Jude, one of Cline’s friends from West Virginia. There was one more man on board who has not yet been identified and it is unconfirmed who was flying the helicopter.
According to local officials, they took off from Grand Cay Island at around 2am and were eager to get back to Florida because someone in the group was ill.
The pilot made no formal request to fly, they said, and it is unclear if there was a mayday signal.
As news of the crash spread on Friday, local politicians and businessmen paid tribute to Cline as generous and hardworking.
The billionaire’s brother said on Friday that the family was in a state of disbelief.
‘I still can’t believe it. It’s like a dream … We were so close, all of us were,’ Greg Cline told The Palm Beach Post.
Searson’s mother Kimberly said her daughter traveled the world with the Cline family and that she and Kameron were best friends.
She described her daughter Brittney as ‘a leader, strong, smart’ and ‘beautiful’.
Kameron’s uncle Greg said she was a ‘sweet person’. He said the family rarely got time to spend together but that they cherished it when they did.
Cline often traveled to Palm Beach County where his ex-wife and some of his four children live.
His brother added that he would have given ‘to anybody that needed anything’ and that he ‘always knew what to do.’
The coal tycoon would have turned 61 today. He previously dated Tiger Woods’ ex Elin Nordegren.
Nordegreb, who is expecting her first child with boyfriend Jordan Cameron, has not commented on the accident.
Authorities in the Bahamas are now investigating what caused the crash.
Minister of Tourism and Aviation, Dionisio D’Aguilar, told The Nassau Guardian: ‘Initial reports are coming in that a helicopter departed, I think it’s a cay near to Walker’s Cay, at 2 a.m. and I guess shortly after takeoff it crashed.
‘We’ve located the craft. It seems as if the seven passengers are still onboard so therefore submerged, but we can’t confirm anything yet.
‘They’re attempting…to first of all go to the helicopter and retrieve any souls that are onboard and start the investigation.’
Cline’s death was announced on Twitter by West Virginia Governor Jim Justice who paid tribute to him.
‘Today we lost a WV superstar and I lost a very close friend,’ Justice wrote on his Twitter account.
‘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,’ he said.
Daniel Linville, a state lawmaker in West Virginia, tweeted: ‘Very sad to hear of the passing of Chris Cline.
‘He was very successful in business. He had been a big supporter of Marshall University and many charities in Southern WV.’
Cline was the founder of Foresight Energy, the company that has grown into a coal mining empire.
In 2015, he sold most of his stake in the publicly traded company for $1.4billion, according to Forbes. He died with an estimated net worth of $1.8billion.
Cline was married twice and had two sons and two daughters.
His first wife, Sabrina, died of breast cancer in 1987. He remarried in 1993 and then divorced seven years later.
‘What he accomplished in the coal mining industry was nothing short of amazing,’ said Gary White, a former coal company president, said of Cline on Thursday.
‘He started working for his father (a small-contract miner) and rose to be one of the titans in the industry.
‘Notwithstanding his success, he never forgot his humble beginnings.’
Cline attended Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia before dropping out at the age of 22 to go into the coal business.
He donated money to the university, which released a statement expressing sorrow over his death.
‘The entire Marshall community is in disbelief and shock over the sad news of this tragic accident that took the life of a prominent Son of Marshall and so many others,’ said Marshall University President Jerome Gilbert.
‘Our hearts are heavy.’
Cline first founded the Cline Group in 1990. The company operated a number of underground coal mines across the country. In 2003, Cline Group sold its interests in mining and process in Appalachia to focus on new mines in the Illinois Basin.
In 2006, he founded Foresight Energy, which relied on renewed interest in high sulfur and high Btu coal.
His success earned him the nickname ‘New King Coal.’
Cline said he didn’t mind the negative views of him held by the public in light of concerns that the burning of coal was contributing to climate change.
‘As far as the social acceptability of coal, I like to think I’m part of supplying the cheapest energy in America,’ Cline told Bloomberg in 2010.
Eventually, Foresight Energy amassed some three billion tons of coal reserves throughout Illinois and the Northern Appalachians.
In 2011, his charity, the Cline Family Foundation, donated $5million to West Virginia University’s athletic department and medical school.
That same year, he gave $5million to Marshall University for research on sports medicine.
Cline also donated $3.5million toward scholarships for Marshall student athletes.
Marshall paid tribute to Cline by inaugurating the Chris Cline Athletic Complex in 2014.
‘I’m devastated,’ Marshall’s athletic director, Mike Hamrick, said on Thursday.